Design Solutions for Aging in Place – BIG PICTURE

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For those of you that are truly intrigued and fascinated by the changing world around us and the wave of “Aging In Place” for our future, I’m going to recommend that you block out the time and actually watch this YouTube video in its entirety (1:27 long) if you want some of the in-depth knowledge and educational background information on what’s happening in our industry and the discussions that are taking place across the nation, that drives our opinions and ideas here at EtMM.

Now, that aside I will quickly get right down to the “brass tacks” of the matter.  Suburban Sprawl is OVER.  Understanding how just maybe the integration of skateboards and walkers can live together is the FUTURE.  A.K.A. “Multi-Generational Housing”.  Here’s the general low down on what’s happening out there, and where the opportunities lie if we are to solve this problem and our “new reality” for the decades ahead.

1) The last 60 years we’ve requested suburban sprawl and created drive-able communities created by the baby boomers desire as a large percentage of the population and in their early careers & early family life.  Now “Millennials” (the “kids” that came after “Gen X”) are swinging the pendulum back and asking for less cars (tired of traffic early in their careers I guess) and more walk-able communities.  Millennials are (just barely) less of the population than Baby Boomers, and together the two sectors are OVER 50% of the U.S. population.  Oh, and guess what?  Now that the baby boomers are retiring, and soon won’t be driving as much, they are asking for the SAME THING.  More URBAN housing solutions.  SUBURBAN IS OVER.  “Gentrification” is the next generation, and it requires affordable housing solutions, not just the “drive until you qualify” approach.

2) Attributes of a young family’s suburban single family home that worked then, don’t work now.  Now they are obstacles to Aging In Place.  Large lot privacy then = maintenance issues and isolation.  Single use zoning and school based centers around housing then = distancing to daily needs and access to health care now.  Driving then = Not walk-able now.  Therefore, there is a HUGE OPPORTUNITY to link the needs of aging populations with the expired, vacant, dilapitated, and out of date suburban commercial properties that are currently depreciating neighborhoods and their surroundings.  Creative solutions in unlikely properties can be solutions!

We’re aware this would also require, as Louis Tenenbaum would attest, the remainder of the “Full Systems Solution” approach which includes transit solutions, integration of health care to the home, food and meal solutions that work for the demographic, etc. etc.  But just pause for a moment, close your eyes, and envision this in your own community…

What if the EMPTY Big Box Store can become a Senior Community Center or Mature Market Apartments, and the asphalt jungle out front can become a walking park and more of a NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) as the overall development.  Talk about a WIN/WIN!  It’s near health care, on the bus line, has walking alternatives to restaurants, shopping, etc.  and it would KICK START the RE-VITALIZATION of the building industry in a down economy!  (all this takes is some pro-active re-zoning by the jurisdictions that should be tired of the lack of tax revenue from empty buildings and failed businesses in the last 4-5 years – they should be interested in that, right?)  Envision the vacant gas station as a Senior and Youth Center!?  Imagine the empty K-mart store as a boutique retail multi-tenant storefront, and a mixed use building now, with independent living apartments above?  Sounds a lot better than the sagging canopy and dirty CMU building that’s been vacant for the last 4 years, right?  YES, and I agree.

Matthias Hollwich, one of the panelists in the YouTube video, says it best… “Nobody wants to be alone.  Nobody wants depend on others.  And NOBODY EVER wants to be STORED AWAY.  So I don’t understand, as an Architect, why we have 17,000 Nursing Homes in this country, which are designed and built to do EXACTLY THAT.”

If you are 40 or older, your actions as a consumer and the purchasing decision you make are driving the product development of the next 10-20 years.  We are still currently designing and building something that YOU and I would readily admit we’d never want to live in.  And we are still designing hazardous and dangerous homes (two story, skinny halls and doors, etc.) as it relates to what our folks need now and what we’ll need next… and it’s NOT THAT FAR AWAY.  We’re designing structures to live in that won’t even fit our OWN FUTURE SELF!  WHY??? And we are designing neighborhood solutions and creating urban planning that will TRAP US the moment we can’t use our car anymore.

Bottom Line: Our design ideas are BROKEN.  Our homes are BROKEN for where we are heading, and we don’t have much time to FIX IT!

You have to ENVISION.  You have to HAVE VISION.  You have to THINK DIFFERENTLY.  You have to SHARE your VISION, and do it with the PASSION that you can CHANGE THE WORLD.  You have to start a REVOLUTION!!!  Then, and only then, we can in fact do this… together.

 

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”- Anthony Robbins

 

Full YouTube reference, video credits: 
Designing Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging Population: Design Solutions for Aging in Place
Ellen Dunham-Jones, Georgia Institute of Technology
Matthias Hollwich, Hollwich Kushner Architects (HWKN)
Christine Nocar, National Church Residences
Moderator: Christopher Leinberger, senior fellow, Brookings Institution

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