A runner passes a large puddle under the Sixth Street underpass along Boulder Creek. Credit: Timothy Hurst

There are plenty of reasons to live out your post-retirement years in Boulder: open space to keep active, volunteer opportunities to stay engaged with the community, and a growing cohort of older residents, to name just a few. But those reasons could multiply over the coming years if plans intended to make Boulder a “Colorado Lifelong City” become reality.

The city recently earned the designation from Gov. Jared Polis’ office as part of a statewide initiative dubbed Lifelong Colorado, which aims to ensure all Coloradoans, of any age, can live and participate in their communities as long as possible.

Longmont, Lyons and Broomfield also were among the 37 Colorado cities and counties acknowledged.

“The goal of a Lifelong City is that regardless of whether a community member chooses to live here lifelong or moves here later, our services will support the entire lifespan,” said Eden Bailey, manager of Older Adult Services, who spearheaded the project. “We want Boulder to be as comfortable and accessible for an 80-year-old as an 8-year-old.”

Boulder’s designation, which was recognized recently as part of a city council proclamation of May as Older Americans Month, capped two years of planning. The effort was led by the Housing and Human Services Department and involved more than 10 city departments.

Recommendations cover four areas: mobility and access, housing, community living and support services.

Regarding mobility and access, as just one example, recommendations include a review of public sidewalk systems, streets and intersections to reduce barriers to access for older residents. 

Recommendations across other areas include promoting intergenerational social interaction, developing mixed-use neighborhoods for older residents in accessible locations, universal housing design that meets the changing needs of people over their lifetimes, and more.

‘A time to plan’

Boulder’s push came in response to a challenge by former Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2018 to create 100 Lifelong Colorado communities by 2023.

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs says the state has a life expectancy in the top 10 nationally, meaning communities will grow proportionally older in the future. Already, the state demography office projects that residents over the age of 60 will outnumber people ages 18 and younger as soon as next year.

“Now is not the time to balk at this emerging reality, but it is a time to plan, prepare and invest in our communities, so that quality of life is retained across the entire lifespan,” Polis said in a statement.

Bailey says that after studying the Lifelong Colorado initiative, “I thought, ‘We could do that.’” The process has been “exciting and a wonderful opportunity to look at our community through the lens of the entire lifespan.” 

Planning here started in 2020 and was completed in late 2021. The program is now in the early rollout phase.

She noted that some recommendations are already in place, such as a support services program to buttress independent living and a 55+ job fair held every other year. Others, like developing more accessible mixed-use neighborhoods, could take 10 years or longer to implement. 

“It is not designed as a one-and-done effort,” Bailey said. “Things can grow and change.”

Although the program sets ambitious goals, Boulder’s city budget isn’t being increased to achieve them.

“We are allowing departments in the work groups to look and be flexible to build anything they want to do, within their own budgets,” Bailey said. “It’s up to them to decide how to build these into the budgets. Their resources are different.”

Despite many programs launching with fanfare but ultimately languishing on the shelf, Bailey is confident Lifelong Boulder will be different and remain vital over time.

“We can keep it alive because it is interdepartmental in scope, and they are invested to keep the goals in front of the staff,” she said.

Sally Bell is a former major city newspaper reporter with many years of experience, who in retirement now freelances occasionally because she misses it. She has lived in Boulder for more than 20 years.