A few weeks ago I wrote about a nostalgic trip back to rural roots as told in the film, The Trip to Bountiful. That imaginary rural community was almost deserted as people had moved on to new things. Most of us have moved on it seems. A recent article in the Austin American Statesman cited that just 16% of Americans live in rural areas. In 1910, the year my father was born, it was 72%.

For a country that has this farming/cowboy image, the reality may be difficult. What lies in the future seems to be the megalopolis. What is this? It is the urban conglomeration one gets when all the space between cities gets filled in with more city. It’s sort of like how Jack London described people with drinking issues by saying (paraphrased), “They only drink between drinks.”

Yen says of megalopolises, “… analysts point to a merger of areas between Austin and San Antonio, Tampa and Orlando in Florida and possibly Phoenix and Tucson, with the Washington-Baltimore region extending southward to Richmond, Va.”

Los Angles is a megalopolis. Coming out of the empty desert, one hits the urban sprawl at Thousand Palms and does not leave it until, hours later, one scoots thru Santa Clarita. And, here’s the good part, it’s all built for the young. “Cities and suburbs were designed for younger people, full of stairs and cars, [Andrew Scharlach] explained. As they become increasingly difficult to navigate, older people gradually retreat” (Neergaard, 2011).

This expanding urban world relies on cars (still!) and has few accommodations for people who move slower, are less agile, susceptible to cold and heat, and weaker (and in that category are more than just the elderly). A recent article at MSNBC.com explores what urban places are doing to make the megalopolis more user friendly. A wide range of clever and useful things are being implemented. Chairs in stores. Access to toilets. Air conditioning. Accessible and convenient bus transportation. Etcetera. Some old buildings are being developed to be community gathering places and cities are changing building codes to encourage greater access. Good steps, all. Tiny steps in a big problem, but still a beginning.

Rural areas (where we live, that shrinking 16%) already had problems of access, no public transportation, no accessible buildings, and often new development brings design aimed only at the most frequent and affluent customers able to drive and navigate a huge, hot, cold, wet, slippery parking lot. The solution to access is to become the most frequent and affluent customer. Neergaard says, “By 2050, 1 in 5 Americans will be seniors. Worldwide, almost 2 billion people will be 60 or older, 400 million of them over 80.

I say, they who buy are catered to. As the huge bolus of Baby Boomers moves thru the population people who move slower, are less agile, susceptible to cold and heat, and weaker but generally affluent will become a majority force in America. Who said getting old was all bad?


London, Jack. A Goboto Night in Son of the Sun, Doubleday, 1912. http://london.sonoma.edu/Writings/SonofSun/goboto.html

Neergaard, Lauran. Aging baby boomers strain cities built for the young, MSNBC.com, July 10, 2011. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43696689/ns/us_news-life/t/aging-baby-boomers-strain-cities-built-young

Yen, Hope. Rural U.S. population share hits low. Austin American Statesman, July 27, 2011. http://www.statesman.com/news/nation/rural-u-s-population-share-hits-low-1663240.html