Moore Devastation leads to MORE Questions about Pro-Active Planning and Housing Design

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In the wake of the horrific images coming out this evening from the areas around the city of Moore, Oklahoma, we have many questions.  It’s to be expected that we mourn, reflect, and consider what could have been different.  It’s also normal that we think long and hard about how we could do anything to be sure that any portion of this doesn’t ever happen again.

As an architect, I think about the lack of basements in all of these homes, and the fact that NBC quoted it as “only” costing about $8,000 – $10,000 to create an above ground “safe room” in each home.  I know that is a lot of money to a lot of people, especially in the current economy.  But look around now. look at the videos and the photographic images captured in the last 24 hours.  Look at the cost estimates for the devastation in insurance repair costs.  If they’re estimating $1 billion dollars or more for rebuilding from the tornado, does $8,000 per home for each family to feel safe and secure seem like a lot of money any longer?  I don’t think it does.

This takes me to the point of, as Benjamin Franklin so eloquently stated, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Spending a dime in preventative measures can save dollars down the road.  Pro-active planning and spending is always cheaper than reactive and panic spending after an acute occurrence that has us overwhelmed and backpedaling while looking for solutions.  As we are heading back into a slightly more “normal” economy in comparison to the past 5 years, with signals from the housing construction and financial lending industries finally showing some signs of potentially sustainable life, our plea for “pro-action” is about “ADAPTABLE” homes.

We would ask those builders and developers that are getting off the sidelines now, and moving ahead with new home construction and residential developments, to consider the reality of a very new and different future ahead in the next 20-30 years.  The future of the “Silver Tsunami”.  The wave has begun the crash upon our shores.  As of January 2011, there are now 10,000 people turning 65 years old.  The Baby Boomers, as they’ve done in every other decade they have been a part of, are changing the world around us.  They have the shear mass in numbers to make a difference in supply and demand.  Add to that the fact that they have a net worth FIVE TIMES greater than the national average of the U.S. population as a whole (read between the lines “spending power”), and they have a perfect storm of their own to make the loudest “demand” voice in discretionary spending than we have ever seen in the history of our nation.

We’ve spoken to our city council, and many civic organizations in and around Seattle, Wa. about this topic.  We have expanded our own services as an architecture firm in the last few years to include consulting to builders and developers, as well as jurisdictions (cities and counties) to help them A) plan for an older population in their own locale, and B) attract this mass of financial influence into their own economy by being prepared and addressing the unique issues that are of importance to the demographic.

Some of the most important issues for Boomer Housing for themselves and their families are:

1)      Safety / Fall Prevention – Protecting our Independence and Freedom

2)      Visit-ability (the ability for others to get to, and into, your home)

3)       Community (including feeling safe in neighborhood, & transportation to social opportunities)

4)      ADAPTABLE HOMES (Our Term) – Houses that are planned to allow more affordable future modifications as our needs change for how our homes function for us effectively.  This includes the ability to add a MIL (Mother In Law) addition or ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) on the site planning scale, as well as framing the home in a way that would allow cost-effective changes to door sizes, floor slopes in restrooms, and other similar considerations.

Planning is worth the time, and the expense.  It keeps our clients EMPOWERED to make their own decisions about their housing and how they’ll receive their health care in the decades ahead.  With 89% of those polled by AARP saying their first choice is to “Age in Place” in their own home and community, we have 700 million Older Americans speaking the “demand”, with the wallet to back up what they want with their spending dollars.  I hope we’re listening, and I hope we’ve already started paddling, so we can catch the humongous “Age Wave” that is the Silver Tsunami.  If not, we’ll be crushed by it, and our lack of pro-active planning.

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