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A Sprawling City’s Aging Population: Columbia Association’s Phil Nelson Talks

Part Three: Columbia’s changing demographics bring challenges.

Forty-four years after Columbia was first founded, it has grown into the second-largest community in Maryland, with people  

In Part Three of Patch’s interview with Columbia Association President Phil Nelson, Nelson talked about how the association may adjust its recreational, cultural and community services as Columbia, itself, changes. Following is an edited excerpt:

Patch: What do you think of how Columbia is changing right now?

Nelson: “I think the biggest change is yet to come. One in five Marylanders, as well as one in five Americans in the next 25 years, is going to be over the age of 65.

“There are [also] natural resources that are going to create a different type of development. People talk about $5 and $6 a gallon gasoline. If that takes place, the whole idea of suburbs and everything else is going to have to be rethought. People start looking at different types of housing.

“In the next 25 years, 50 percent of the population is going to range from 36 to 84 years old. And baby boomers and millennials, neither group wants to own property. They don’t want to spend all their time in the yard digging weeds and mowing.

“They would like to see more of a social interactive type setting where you can go from your 20th floor condo down to eat dinner and then back up to work and do your work by telecommuting or whatever.

Things are going to change so much, I think, in the future that people are going to have to look at different modes of transit, different forms of housing, how it affects CA when one in five Columbians are going to be over 65 years old. Are we offering the right services?

“At the other end of the spectrum, those that are born from 1977 to 1994 are also going to be 25 percent of the population.”

Patch: When you talk about offering the right services, have you already started looking for the answer?

Nelson: “We as a staff are starting to look at how we turn the ship. Do we maintain the same fitness center concepts we have now, or do we go to smaller storefronts where the population centers are?

“We’re still going to need hike and bike pathway systems, because people are still going to want to exercise. They’re still going to want to get out in nature. I just want to make sure we’re still looking in the future to find out what people want, what the changes are.

“Right now the population of senior citizens, they like group activities. They like to go where their friends are. The Baby Boom Generation now, the first phase is hitting 61, 62, 63 years old. They want smaller activities. They don’t want group activities. They want more active activities.…

“We have to make sure that we’re meeting our residents’ needs as to providing services, providing facilities and making sure that we maintain a concept that’s worked that probably will have to change.”

Patch: Is there a timetable? What is the process?

Nelson: “This is going to be gradual, because we want to start before it actually hits. We want to be in a position to act rather than react. And instead of waiting until we’ve got an age cohort that needs different services and start going toward providing those services but forgetting the others, we need to make sure that we’re offering that type of service that a 65-year-old can use and a 14-year-old can use.”

Patch: How do you figure out what people want?

Nelson: “We’ll do focus group settings. We’ll do surveys. We’ll do all kinds of different things to find out what people are looking for. It’s not just for today, but what they could want in the future.”

This is the third in a three-part series. , Nelson discussed the redevelopment of downtown Columbia and Columbia Association’s role in the process. , Nelson talked about the village center concept and whether it is fundamentally changing. Columbia Association offers recreational, cultural and community services and facilities. 

Paul Verchinski June 24, 2011 at 12:08 PM
There have been studies and surveys done by various groups including CA, the Office on Aging, etc for at least the last 10 years. CA did a survey around 2002. The time for doing surveys is past and now is the time to start doing implementation. Two zip codes (21044 and 21045) according to the 2010 Census already have over 25% of the population over 65. Basically they include the oldest villages; Oakland Mills, Long Reach, Wilde Lake, and Harper's Choice. Any pilot projects by CA should happen first in those villages.
b.santos June 24, 2011 at 07:33 PM
Paul, Could you provide the source of your 2010 Census zip code data? I am a bit of a censusphile, and as of today, I have only been able to obtain population data broken down by age, to the place level. That means the data available drills down to Columbia as a whole, not by zip code or census tract. The good news is that detailed data will be available some time in the next few weeks. Also, for your information, the 2010 Census states Columbia as a whole has the following age demographic breakdown: <20 yrs old: 26.04%; 20 to 54 yrs old: 50.57%; >55 yrs old: 23.38%.
Jessie Newburn June 27, 2011 at 12:06 AM
bill, can the columbia census data be sliced by the strauss and howe generational years? super curios, am i.
b.santos June 27, 2011 at 04:19 PM
Jessie, Current 2010 Census data is broken down by five-year increments. So the age specific demographic data can be broken out along S&H years (or at least pretty closely). However, the geographic area currently available is down to the place level. In other words, the five-year increment data is available for the State of Maryland, Howard County, and places within Howard County, such as Columbia, Elkridge, and Ellicott City. Data for smaller geographic areas, such as zip code areas or census tracts are not available at this time. The US Census is rolling out this data during the next few months. Here is the generational breakdown numbers for Columbia (a Census Designated Place) as I know them: Silent (born before 1943 gives an age of 68, but I used 70 +), 6,656 people (7%). Boom (born 1943-1960, I used age group 51-69), 24,034 people (24%). Gen X (born 1961-1981, I used age group 30-49), 29,972 people (30%). Millennials (born 1982-2002, I used age group 10-30), 26,076 people (26%). Generation-to-be-named-later (born after 2002, I used age group 0-9), 12,877 people (13%). Hope this helps.

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