SOLANA BEACH — Twice a month, a group of around a dozen Solana Beach residents passionate about knitting gathers at the La Colonia Community Center to socialize, help one another with knitting and show off their latest projects.
The group, Closely Knit, is one of several activities geared toward older adults in Solana Beach, although it is open to people of all ages. Group founder Linda Hart has led it for the past 20 years, meeting on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 9:30 a.m., and has seen the simple gathering grow into its community.
“It’s very significant that there’s a place to come where people can get help with their knitting. It keeps us connected,” Hart said. “Knitting is a very, very healthy thing to do. Knitting is one of the activities that is very good for preventing dementia. It’s beyond being creative — it alleviates depression because when you create something, it makes you feel happy.”
Solana Beach leaders are looking at strategies to expand the local offering of fulfilling activities for older adults, from knitting to outdoor activities, as well as crucial services related to transportation, housing and information sharing.
Data indicates that Solana Beach’s older demographic is growing more quickly than in other areas. Nationwide, the number of adults over the age of 65 is predicted to exceed youth under 18 by 2035, while Solana Beach is expected to reach that metric by 2025.
On March 22, the City Council approved the Age-Friendly Solana Beach Action Plan, which identifies top priorities for making the city a sustainable place for older adults to continue living and thriving and tangible action steps to see them through.
“The city undertook this initiative with the goal to enhance the existing efforts to develop a well-designed, age-friendly community that fosters economic growth and sets the stage for happier, healthier residents of all ages,” said Assistant City Manager Dan King.
The city created the plan in partnership with the San Diego Foundation, American Association of Retired Persons and San Diego State University Social Policy Institute, guiding the process with community feedback from surveys, meetings with community leaders and public workshops in both English and Spanish.
“According to the survey, people believe Solana Beach is an excellent place to live, and it is very important to them to remain there as they age,” King said.
One of the plan’s five main focus areas is outdoor spaces and buildings, with the goal of increasing walkability and maintaining safe and active spaces for residents of all ages.
To achieve this, the plan suggests creating new outdoor amenities like pocket parks, repairing handrails near the beach, increasing wayfinding signage and benches, and hosting age-friendly outdoor events throughout the city.
Marianne Leighton, 83, said she “aged out” of a local walking group once she became unable to keep up but thinks a similar group geared toward older adults would be beneficial. Thankfully, she has found other groups like Closely Knit where she can do the hobbies she loves.
“If you stay with groups long enough, people age out because they just can’t do it anymore,” she said.
Another focus area is social participation with inclusion, with action steps including hiring more Parks and Recreation staff to support additional programming, working with the Latinx community to offer more culturally inclusive activities through the city, and connecting older adults to after-school and mentoring programs.
“The fact is, that without additional staff, we will be hard-pressed to implement these actions,” City Manager Greg Wade said.
Higher education institutions in San Diego County, like Mira Costa College and San Diego College of Continuing Education, also offer classes specifically geared toward older adults.
When it comes to housing, the plan discusses increasing lighting in neighborhoods, educating residents on minor home safety modifications, promoting and supporting organizations offering in-home wraparound services for older adults, and exploring opportunities for ADA-accessible units designated for older adults.
The plan also discusses transportation, with specific attention to offering community information sessions regarding e-bikes and public transit, adding sidewalks and sidewalk ramps to increase accessibility, and expanding overall transportation options in the city.
City staff said many residents supported the idea of a local shuttle service to take older adults to appointments and grocery shopping.
The plan’s last focus area is communication and outreach, with commitments to finding non-virtual means to share information about city events, news and services with older adults, such as mailers and printed information at kiosks.