WP | WS 2025 Conference

The Aging West

Western communities, and the infrastructure and regulatory systems that they depend on, are experiencing the challenges associated with aging. As we invest in foundations for the future, we need to address those challenges and seize opportunities presented as we adapt. The 2025 Western Places | Western Spaces conference will explore the best ideas for how communities can update their planning processes, their infrastructure, and their regulatory systems to meet the moment.

Aging Population


Once a relatively youthful part of the U.S., the Rocky Mountain region is undergoing rapid demographic change. In just the past decade, 7 out of 8 Rocky Mountain states have experienced a 42-55% increase in their age 65+ populations. Combined with slowing birth rates, these aging populations portend big changes for the region: fewer workers; increased demand for public transportation, more walkable communities, access to health services, and leisure activities; and a growing need for more flexible, affordable, and accessible housing.

Aging Physical Infrastructure

Just as the population is aging, so too is the West’s built environment. A region that was largely developed in the 20th century is now experiencing the challenges of outdated, insufficient, and crumbling infrastructure. Our current water and energy delivery systems are inadequate to serve future needs. Our existing public transportation, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure is lacking and standing in the way of a more sustainable future. Our current housing supply is not only insufficient and unaffordable, but also largely not designed to accommodate older inhabitants –- only 10% of our nation’s housing stock is considered “senior friendly”. 

Aging Intellectual Infrastructure

Finally, our “modern” legal and regulatory systems that govern land development today were established roughly a century ago -- at a time when segregation and unsustainable growth were the norm.    Zoning and subdivision rules that helped chart a development course for the communities of the 1950s no longer deliver the desired development of the 2050s. 


How can we plan to Age Well in the West?

The Rocky Mountain West is known for its entrepreneurial, innovative spirit. Although our aging region presents great challenges, we have an opportunity now to build the foundation for a different and thriving future by planning for and investing in the systems and infrastructure and inventive solutions to address the challenges ahead.  

As we consider the road ahead, we need to ask ourselves: 

  • How can we leverage necessary investments to make our communities more accommodating to a changing population?  
  • How can we rebuild our infrastructure for the future, in ways that are sustainable and that provide the foundation for inclusive, equitable growth?   
  • How can we upgrade our utility systems to better manage increasingly scarce resources like water in ways that are sustainable and fair? 
  • What energy infrastructure do we need to power our future economy?     
  • Do we have the legal and regulatory system that allows for modernization and reform?    
  • How should we be rethinking, refreshing, and rewriting our land development codes with an eye to the future?

We will be taking up these questions, and more, at our 2025 Conference! Learn more about our conference tracks & topics below:

Conference Topic Tracks

Housing: In some communities, the housing stock is aging; in others, the housing stock is not designed to serve the needs of the future. Across the board, housing is unaffordable for too many.  Seniors, in particular, are affected:  of those who are housed, 1/3 are considered cost burdened by housing. And our existing housing supply is not designed to accommodate older inhabitants. What policies do we need to make a dent in this housing crisis? How can we remove restrictive zoning, streamline permitting processes, establish design standards, or offer incentives for development of more flexible, accessible, and affordable housing? How can we develop successful intergenerational housing? How can we create and sustain local investments and maximize federal funding?  

Energy:  Our aging, fragmented energy infrastructure is inadequate to meet future demand and technology. Lack of transmission capacity is delaying our transition to healthier, cleaner renewable energy. Current zoning laws, ordinances, and local opposition limit siting of wind and solar. How can we ensure local and state laws support the development of renewable projects and the promotion of electrification? How can we establish setback, noise, and height regulations that balance community concerns and support the responsible development of renewable energy? How can we build community resilience using microgrids and distributed energy technologies?  

Water:  The legal system and infrastructure supporting the development of water resources in the West were established many decades ago and are inadequate to ensure equitable, sustainable supplies in the face of a changing climate. As the West gets hotter and dryer, water demand is increasing, while supplies are decreasing. How do we equitably balance the demands for water? How do we better manage stormwater, groundwater, and surface water supplies? What policy approaches, new infrastructure, and other investments are needed to ensure a sustainable water supply?

Transportation & Mobility: How can we improve public transportation, bike/pedestrian infrastructure, and mobility options to ensure access to housing, healthcare, and other resources? And how do we ensure that under-resourced and/or rural communities have adequate infrastructure investments?

Small Towns and Rural Communities:  Small towns and rural communities are especially affected by aging populations and aging infrastructure. What challenges most affect these communities, and what strategies, tools, and investments can help them thrive?

Land Conservation & Open Space:  Access to quality parks, open space, and healthy food are critical for our communities to age well. How can we equitably and strategically invest in parks, green infrastructure, and ecosystem services to mitigate climate impacts and promote healthy communities? How can we better protect rural ag land, open space, and wildlife habitat in the face of growth? How can we promote urban agriculture? 

Climate & Disaster Resilience:  Facing a future of wildfires, flooding, and drought, how can we prepare for a hotter, drier future and help our communities develop better policy tools to protect against future disasters? What strategies can help us avoid building in harms’ way or retreat to safer ground? 

Legislative Developments & Legal Issues: What intellectual or regulatory infrastructure is holding us back or hindering our ability to meet the needs of the future? What are the most important legal issues impacting land use and real estate development this year? What legislative efforts will allow for, or stifle, innovation and progress? What issues should we be monitoring?  How should our regulatory systems and approaches be updated to better support our goals and objectives?

Tools & Technologies:  What new tools and emerging technologies, like AI, can help us plan better communities, make more strategic and data-driven decisions, or improve professional practice?

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion:  The last few years have shed a spotlight on the embedded inequities in urban planning and land use. How do we ensure that everyone has a voice in the decisions that impact their communities?

Professional Responsibility & Ethics:  (Designed to provide continuing education and certification maintenance credits for professional planners and attorneys).

Present at the 2025 Conference: 

Call for Proposals is Open until August 31, 2024!

Submit a Proposal