Intergenerational Community Planning

PAS Report 603

By Irv Katz, Matthew Kaplan

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By 2034 older adults will outnumber children in the United States, a scenario unlike any prior period in American history. Yet, most in our society do not live in circumstances that allow for routine and sustained connections between young and old. And children and older adults are often underrepresented in planning and community engagement processes.

PAS Report 603, Intergenerational Community Planning, explores how focusing on the youngest and the oldest members of our communities can help planners identify their needs and vulnerabilities — as well as their assets and strengths — to find synergies and solutions that benefit both. An intergenerational approach to planning enables planners to develop plans, programs, policies, places, partnerships, processes, and values that promote interaction of young and old to the mutual benefit of both groups — and the community as a whole.

The report offers guidance in implementing the elements of an intergenerational community planning process, including visioning, public engagement, and data collection and analysis. It describes a range of intergenerational strategies and solutions that encompasses programs, public spaces and facilities, and human services. And it points planners to intergenerational building blocks of children/youth- and older adult-focused initiatives for collaboration and coalition building.

Children and youth, as well as older adults, are the proverbial canaries in the coal mines of our societies. By focusing on engaging these two populations, as well as the generations in the middle, and crafting policies and plans that address their needs and bring them together, planners can make sure their communities are good places to grow up and grow old.

Executive Summary

The population of the United States is aging. And while the percentage of children in the population is declining, the number of children is substantial and will remain so well into the future. By 2060, older adults and children together are projected to comprise more than 43 percent of the population, as compared with 38 percent in 2016. It is a scenario of old and young unlike any prior period in American history.

There is intrinsic value in the generations connecting. Yet, most in our society do not live and function in circumstances that allow for routine and sustained connections between young and old. Children attend age-segregated schools, adults work in environments without children and older adults, and many older people live in age-segregated housing. This age segregation of spaces allows age-based stereotypes to flourish, thereby making it more difficult for older adults and younger people to initiate or maintain relationships with each other and for many younger people to understand the aging process more fully.

Creating communities in which children, youth, and older adults engage with each other for their mutual benefit is becoming a societal imperative. This PAS Report explains the important roles that planners can play in achieving this aim — by crafting intergenerational community plans and initiatives that address the well-being of children, youth, and older adults in integrated ways. This applies to the built environment as well as to community supports: the social services, community resources, and opportunities necessary for the children, youth, and older adults of a given area to thrive, from basic health and nutrition to care for essential age- and stage of life-associated needs.


In the context of this PAS Report, "intergenerational" means interactions between those aged 18 and younger and those aged 65 and older, and, often, their adult caregivers. In contrast, "multigenerational" simply refers to more than one generation being present in the same setting and does not address interaction between generations.

This focus on interactions between the youngest and oldest members of our communities does not exclude the generations in the middle, however. Whether as staff members of organizations that serve the young and the old, caregivers to children or older adults, young adult volunteers, neighbors, or other family members, they play significant roles in making and supporting connections between older and younger people.

Intergenerational community planning encompasses approaches to plans, policies, programs, places, partnerships, processes, and values that enable and promote interaction of children and youth and older adults to the mutual benefit of both groups — and the community as a whole. As presented in this PAS Report, it is the culmination and integration of study, practice, and a rich literature — cutting across disciplines focused on health and human services, education, sociology, community, and cultural studies — that attests to the many ways in which intergenerational engagement and support enriches the lives of young and old and helps address vital social and community issues.

With an intergenerational approach, planners are encouraged to focus on ways to address the needs, vulnerabilities, and interests of the young and the old in their communities — as well as ways to engage them in the planning process. Planners can look for commonalities or synergies between the two. What challenges does each group face, and how can we get to solutions that meet the needs of both? How can the strengths of one group complement the vulnerabilities of the other?

Intergenerational community planning also addresses the built environment. The objective is for planners to search for strategies that benefit younger and older residents concurrently. How do plans for streets and sidewalks affect conditions faced by young and old? How can proposals for housing facilitate constructive connections between young and old? What kinds of parks and public facilities can not only attract and engage age-diverse populations but also accommodate intergenerational programs and activities? How can accessibility of commercial facilities, public facilities, and human services be improved in ways that benefit young and old and strengthen connections between them?

As this PAS Report makes clear, local governments and residents benefit when communities are designed such that older people avoid isolation and danger because they relate to young people and their families, while children and youth receive the nurturing attention of older relatives and neighbors. In addition, the development and operation of public spaces and facilities for children and seniors — parks, schools, senior centers, child, and adult day care — become more cost effective and community friendly when they are developed jointly. And communities that are walkable, with safe and easy access to services and supports, foster health and fitness, support the environment, and are desirable places for all to live, regardless of age.

Intentionally considering and engaging the needs of old and young in community planning processes makes the practice of planning and planning outcomes more inclusive and equitable. Planners have a responsibility to engage underrepresented and vulnerable groups in the planning process to ensure their voices are heard in planning and designing their communities. Children, youth, and older adults are often left out of the planning process, and today's built environment is often designed in ways that do not sufficiently accommodate their particular needs and pursuits. By focusing on engaging these two populations and by crafting policies and plans that identify and address their needs, planners can ensure more equitable outcomes and create communities that serve every resident, regardless of age or ability.


This PAS Report lays out the following elements of an intergenerational community planning process that can help planners design and develop a community that maximizes its intergenerational potential.

  • Making the case for intergenerational community planning: Using a "case statement" approach to lay the groundwork for an intergenerational community planning effort.
  • Establishing an intergenerational vision and goals: Engaging the community to establish the desired outcomes of the intergenerational community planning process.
  • Engaging young and old in the planning process: Targeting public engagement efforts directly at children and youth, older adults, and those who care for them — and engaging these groups together.
  • Documenting and analyzing age-specific community conditions and resources: Gathering and using data specific to children, youth, and older adults to identify and understand the special challenges they face and target intergenerational interventions to where they are most needed.
  • Identifying and selecting intergenerational aims and strategies: Understanding the range of intergenerational aims, strategies, and actions and selecting the options that are most appropriate for the community.
  • Implementing intergenerational approaches: Turning strategies into action through planning practices.

This PAS Report also explains how planners can find potential building blocks for an intergenerational community planning approach by looking to the intergenerational field, which seeks to understand the disconnect between the generations and institute solutions to it through a range of intervention strategies. Other important resources include existing government agencies and community initiatives focused on children and youth and older adults.


Applying an intergenerational lens to community planning processes prepares planners for identifying intergenerational strategies most appropriate for the community and implementing those strategies through a range of plans, policies, regulations, programs, and other means.

This PAS Report describes the key characteristics of intergenerational strategies and offers examples of approaches drawn from various domains of intergenerational practice:

  • Community awareness and engagement: A good starting point or complement to other community strategies, these efforts seek to make people aware of intergenerational challenges and opportunities, as well as opportunities to participate. Examples include intergenerational festivals and other events and communications.
  • Intergenerational policies: Considering the intergenerational dimensions of various issues that affect the wellbeing of children, youth, older adults, and caregivers can inform policy making at local, state, and national levels.
  • Intergenerational programs: Intergenerational programs — periodic or sustained activities that are enriching for young and old together — may include youth entertaining or visiting older adult complexes, programs for older children and teens that allow them to learn from and teach older adults, and volunteer activities that engage youth and older adults together.
  • Intergenerational places and spaces: Children and youth and older people need to come into contact with one another in regular and positive ways to gain understanding and appreciation for one another. Examples of intergenerational shared sites include facilities that house adult day care and childcare, or a childcare program located in senior housing. The intergenerational contact zone (ICZ) concept focuses on the creation of public spaces that accommodate the different interests and capabilities of young and old and engage them in activity together.
  • Intergenerational housing: The prevalence of multigenerational housing is rising among the American public, and intergenerational housing is also gaining interest from older adults wanting to live among people of diverse ages and young adults and parents who can benefit from the experience and influence of older adults. This includes intergenerational residential facilities and campuses, intergenerational home sharing, intentional intergenerational communities, and housing targeted at "grandfamilies," or households in which grandparents or other relatives are raising grandchildren (also called kinship care).

The report explores implementation approaches — including aspects of several familiar planning frameworks that have considerable overlap with intergenerational principles — to help planners create more inclusive, equitable, and livable communities for all residents.


There is much to gain when the vulnerabilities — as well as the strengths — of the young and the old in our societies are intentionally considered and addressed in synergistic ways. Establishing the importance of interactions between the generations in plans and policies, and creating opportunities for those interactions in programs, practices, and the built environment, provides benefits not just for children, youth, and older adults, but for the entire community.

This PAS Report lays out the many potential avenues that exist for planners to bring a focused and intentional intergenerational lens to local planning practices. Over the long term, integrating intergenerational thinking into local planning practices and processes can create a community where the development of the built environment and the well-being of residents of all ages and generations comprise a well-functioning, mutually complementary ecosystem.

Children and youth, as well as older adults, are the proverbial canaries in the coal mines of our societies. Because those in the earlier and later stages of life have far more intensive need of systems and supports from government and the community, their health and happiness is particularly at stake when those systems and supports are not optimally designed or functioning. Capturing the synergies of solutions that address their needs and draw upon their assets will benefit all. By applying an intergenerational lens to the comprehensive planning process, planners can ensure that their communities will be good places for everyone to grow up and grow old.

About the Authors

Irv Katz is a Senior Fellow at Generations United, specializing in intergenerational planning and intergenerational housing. Having earned a master of social work degree in community organization and planning from Indiana University, he served in professional positions from the neighborhood level (advocate planner, settlement house director) to the metropolitan area level (CEO of a human services planning agency, president of major-metro United Way) and at the national level (United Way of America, National Human Services Assembly). Katz was recognized for several successive years as one of the Power & Influence 50 by the Nonprofit Times.

Matthew Kaplan, PHD, is Professor of Intergenerational Programs and Aging in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education at the Pennsylvania State University. He conducts research, develops curricular resources, and provides leadership in the development and evaluation of intergenerational programs. He has published numerous works advancing the field, focusing on intergenerational programs and practices from an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective. He holds a PhD in environmental psychology from the City University of New York Graduate Center, studied intergenerational initiatives in Japan as a Senior Fulbright Scholar, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing.

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Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
Dec. 1, 2022
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Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Chapter 1: The Case for Intergenerational Planning  
What Is Intergenerational Planning?
The Importance of an Intergenerational Approach
Opportunities for Intergenerational Planning
About This Report

Chapter 2: Intergenerational and Age-Related Initiatives
The Intergenerational Field
Complementary Age-Related Initiatives

Chapter 3: Building an Intergenerational Community Planning Process
Making the Case for Intergenerational Community Planning
Establishing an Intergenerational Vision and Goals
Engaging Young and Old in the Planning Process
Documenting and Analyzing Age-Specific Community Conditions and Resources

Chapter 4: Strategies to Create Intergenerational Communities
Characteristics of Intergenerational Strategies
Examples of Intergenerational Strategies
From Planning to Implementation

Chapter 5: A New Frontier
Building on Existing Knowledge and Expertise
Options for Local Action

Appendix: Additional Resources