Re-Zoning our Nation for “Aging In Place”

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Here come those two words again… PARADIGM SHIFT.

If we are going to act in time, we have to act now!  Residential housing is not prepared for the Silver Tsunami.  New Construction by builders aren’t considering ADAPTABLE houses that can be modified for better accessibility design and modifications in the future.  Existing housing stock isn’t designed or prepared to support our aging population in a way that allows them to stay home longer, safer, and happier.  That’s why we are here, doing what we’re doing – Educating, Advocating, Promoting, and PASSIONATELY striving to get the word out!

So, let’s get outside the box.  Let’s quit thinking that we can do the same thing we’ve always done and expect a different result (isn’t that the definition of INSANITY anyway?).

I’m going to take this blog to share some of the crazy, new, and different ideas I’ve thought of which may lead the way to change that makes for better cities, towns, and neighborhoods that can support the fact that in America, statistically speaking:

1) 80+ is the fastest growing age group.

2) We’ve created more longevity increase in the last 100 years than in the previous 5,000.

3) 10,000 people are turning 65 every DAY, as of January 2011.

4) 2/3 of American Suburbia is “empty nested” (the kids have moved out), soon it will be 3/4.

5) The 80+ age group will have grown from 0.5% in 1950 to 5% in 2040.  That’s a 10x increase in our oldest Americans, and most of that change is still ahead of us in the next 30 years.

6) 89% of those polled by AARP would prefer to stay in their own home (Age In Place).  82% still desire this housing solution, even when asked if it included help with their ADL’s (“Activities of Daily Living” as occupational therapists term it)


OUTSIDE THE BOX ideas for Aging In Place solutions:

1) What if we could make your vacant K-mart (or insert other ‘down economy’ vacant big box store here) into a Senior Community Center as the anchor tenant, with a Senior Day Care, and coupled with a kids program such as Boys and Girls club, or other use that will integrate multi-generational interaction though programs being intertwined with each other, which is proven to be beneficial to each of those demographics and ages.


2) What if we could take your massive and empty “asphalt jungle” parking lot in front of the vacant strip mall in town, and re-zone it for cottage housing surrounding a central open space with lawn, pond, and walking trails, allowing the strip mall to be re-invigorated & create business opportunities for new boutique specialty stores that cater to the demographic – everything from salons, to doggy day cares, to medical-related services, and all walk-able from housing that is then enticing for older Americans.

3) What if we allowed residential neighborhoods to re-zone one out of every 10 houses to be allowed to house caregivers and remodel for more of a commercial kitchen and communal open room space.  The adjacent house occupants could hire 2 caregivers, pay for their rent/housing, and have them “right next door”.  The caregivers could be the chefs for the 8-10 seniors in the adjacent block, able to walk to do home visits and help all their clients with their in-home needs, and the seniors could walk a few houses down to meet, play cards, and have their meals together in a social setting.

Oh, and as a side note, that 10th house (if not every 5th) is likely an empty foreclosure and an REO (Bank Owed Property) that’s already been to the auction and wasn’t purchased for the amount owed on the mortgage, which the bank would like “off the books”.

4) What if we could revise the zoning code in your town to allow the vacant auto dealerships to become taller structures with commercial uses on the main floor such as a grocery store, pharmacy, senior center, etc. and revise the structure to be capable of 2-3 stories of accessible independent living apartments above.  Or maybe the building becomes the parking underneath the living units, and the ocean of asphalt around the building is removed to be replaced with walking trails, lawns, shaded seating areas, and opportunities for activities and social interaction.  There are typically 3-8 of these auto dealerships within a walk-able and on grade or fairly level area and distance of 2-3 blocks.  This could become a small social village in and to itself, which would attract transportation solutions to want to make this a part of their route, thereby delivering new people to the commercial areas, and allowing the occupants to have transit when needed to other appointments and needs “off campus”.

There are other industries that need to come aboard in the understanding of how Aging In Place (the requested preference of 89% of those polled by AARP) requires multiple disciplines to overlap, come together, collaborate, and have the client’s full “turn key” solution to meet their wants, needs, and rights.  This requires having systems integration in mind.  This involves people and industries such as housing, building and development, urban planning, zoning & code organizations and decision makers from a local to national level, along with many other (less obvious ones) such as hospitals, other medical facilities and care professionals, in-home care organizations, mortgage companies and laws, occupational and physical therapy, as well as financial planning and retirement / asset management, and even transportation – just to name a few.

Getting medical care, in some ways, “back to the 50’s” when doctors did in-home visits may be a part of this solution as it relates to people wanting to stay home, and living longer.  Solving transportation issues that stem from the “suburban sprawl” needs to be addressed and resolved as well, for people that want to stay in their house, but likely won’t be driving themselves for a good portion of that stay in their residence.  There are businesses that are researching and experimenting with ideas in these arenas, but we’re not “there yet”.


These ideas require you to get involved.  You have to speak out publicly.  You have to get articles written in newspapers.  You have to share your ideas with local politicians and your elected government officials at a local, and at a state level.  You have to CARE.  No one else is going to advocate for you, better than YOU.  If you care about your own future, and your own ability to be EMPOWERED to make your own housing and health care decisions in the years and decades ahead – NOW is the time to act.  NOW is the time to speak up.  NOW is the time to MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  Start paddling, the “Silver Tsunami” is cresting and crashing upon our shores RIGHT NOW, and will continue to clobber “residential design” and town planning as we know it, for the next 20-30 years.

Sometimes the MOST “outside the box” ideas can be the biggest WIN/WIN solutions for everyone!

Image Credits:
Happy Couple:×300.jpg
Grandpa Gardening:×225.jpg
Mixed Use Building:
Doctor In-Home Visit:

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