Multi-Generational Housing is Multi-Beneficial

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I love the fact that my own 6 and 8 year old have been able to get to know and spend some quality time with MY grandfather, who turned 93 last month.  I’m so blessed that Carl has been such a vibrant and alive human being for so long.  I love the photos and memories we’ve been able to make with my own children, and that they’ve reached an age where they will remember their Great-Grandfather, and their time with him.

Just this past Father’s Day, we all 4 generations of Murphy’s played games like bocce ball, bean bag toss, and brought a lunch to have a picnic at a local park near his house.  What a blessing for me to experience it all with him while he’s still here and with us all.  Carl has been the proverbial hub of our entire family for many many decades, and it’s been amazing.

He was also my first boss, as a 16 year old working from 6:00am to 12:00pm on his 26 acre Christmas tree farm so that I could play legion select baseball during the summers in high school.  I learned so much from him in those hours of walking the hundreds of rows of trees – trimming, shearing, tying up new growth leaders, while listening to stories of WWII and asking questions about the Great Depression.  I also learned a lot about work ethic and discipline (boy did I get an earful from him if I couldn’t hear his directions over my Walkman!  I learned to listen to my music tapes with one headphone ear on and one off to keep on his good side… )

The VALUE of our grandparents and even our own parents as they are entering their proverbial “golden years” should not and can not be overstated.  Yet it’s more often completely overlooked.  It’s an opportunity missed.  It’s a value that has been a part of family housing and communal design for thousands of years, that has only since WWII been shoved aside for the quote/unquote “pursuit of the American Dream”, your piece of the pie, your own home and parcel of dirt.  We’ve gone astray, and it’s straining each generation in it’s own way.

We’ve screwed this housing thing up, and it’s rearing its ugly resulting head now as the “Silver Tsunami” of 10,000 people who started turning 65 years old EVERY DAY has begun crashing on our shores as of January 2011.  We have a nation of 2 story homes, stairs everywhere, thoughtless housing and site design related to grading and topography.  And now 2/3 of those “suburban dream homes” are now empty-nested (soon to be 75%!).  One or two people, living alone, wondering how to care for all that square footage, and how to navigate their home’s layout in the latter third of their lives, which were supposed to be their “golden years”.

Parents aren’t being cared for by “a village”, their own children, any more.  The kids no longer live across the street or across town, easily accessible and accountable to return the favor of caregiving that their parents gave them for 18+ years.  They now live across the country, detached from the daily goings-on (and challenges) their folks are tackling.  The lack of connectivity and emotional connection on a regular basis is also equating more often than it used to, to a lessening sense of responsibility and accountability to help prepare for and care for their own parents when the time is approaching and finally arrives.

Now we think we’ve done our due diligence (and our “duty”) by hopping online and doing a few hours of homework, then hopping on the phone and offering some ‘tech savvy’ research results – passing it off as “the best we could do with how busy we are” in our own lives.  Don’t you think THEY were busy when THEY dropped what they were doing to bring their own parents into their home to care for them?  They were just as busy, but they did it anyway – because back then they were CONNECTED to family by adjacency and proximity which equated to personal responsibility.

Children aren’t being raised by “a village” of family that includes multiple generations within the same town, on the same street.  These children are suffering for missing out on the chance to learn the values that made our nation great, from the generations that did it.  I live 3 hours from my own folks, and we have a great relationship.  I see them quarterly and I take as many opportunities as possible to expose my own children to the learning they can provide.  But for thousands of years it used to be so much more common, so much more local, so much more integrated, and so much more VALUABLE to all parties involved.

Multi-Generational Housing was EXPECTED for most of our human history.  It was DESIGNED.  It was INTENTIONAL.  And it was VALUABLE.  It’s NOT those things any more, and we need to RE-DIRECT and RIGHT our COURSE… NOW.

With technological and medical advancement since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve literally added 30 years to our life expectancy “longevity”.  If we are paying attention, we may just get the chance to RIGHT this WRONG.  We will have the chance to DESIGN BACKWARDS, bringing family together again for the benefit of all.  We’ll have the chance to care for our parents, as they did for us.  We’ll have the chance to let our children learn from the greatest generations that built our amazing nation.  We have a CHANCE to GET THIS RIGHT.  Help yourself.  Help your family.  Share the advantages that children can bring to our elders, making them smile and keeping them young.  Share the knowledge our elders have with our children.

PLAN for Aging-in-Place.  PLAN to bring your family TOGETHER again for those “golden years”.  PLAN for our aging nation to do so in their own communities, and the communities their FAMILY lives in.  PLAN with good DESIGN, to make housing successful for EVERY GENERATION.


Image Credits:
Walkman –
Split-Level Entry Interior – 
Chinese Courtyard Housing –

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