As discussed in the BizInsights’ article, Raising the bar on senior living, today’s seniors have a desire to age differently and are evaluating housing options with a new set of criteria. Providers, developers and designers understand these changing expectations and are exploring unique housing alternatives to redefine senior living—marketable options to entice seniors.
There is the continued desire for today’s seniors to age in place, to stay in their homes in the neighborhoods they love for as long as possible. With technological advancements and the availability of more in-home health care services, it is becoming easier to do so. Still others are looking to downsize and to move into a setting that offers greater socialization. These active adults are looking for an environment that offers camaraderie and a variety of amenities. They don’t want to be defined by their age; they are looking for a lifestyle and sense of community.
Craig Witz, principal of Witz Company, a Madison-based senior living development consultant that has 30 years of experience supporting successful senior living communities, agrees that the mindset of today’s senior and technology are impacting the industry. “The next generation of seniors will want assistance as needed, but they won’t let that assistance define them,” says Craig Witz. “They do not want to sacrifice their connection to the outside community.”
Traditional senior living communities are designed with a sense of community in mind but tend to focus the lifestyle and amenity spaces internally within a centralized commons area. Providers, developers and designers are now exploring different planning strategies to entice the new market of seniors, housing options that offer the details and amenities of the neighborhoods they know and love—tree-lined streets and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks connecting a collection of people enjoying similar life experiences as well as easy access to restaurants, entertainment, a variety of services and a diverse intergenerational community.
“Communities will still provide the best of what we currently offer: universally designed residences, access to services, the ability to age in place and access to a continuum of care if needed,” says Witz. “But communities with intergenerational elements will also reflect the next generation’s preferences and provide something that technology cannot—a real interpersonal connection to the fabric of the neighborhood and local community.”
Pocket neighborhoods, co-housing communities and mixed-use environments are the strategies that can deliver this desired environment, and they are currently gaining popularity in the senior living industry.
For years, senior living communities have included cottages and duplexes but have organized them in a typical street-focused design. Pocket neighborhoods support more socialization opportunities by grouping a small number of homes close together. Instead of a backyard that promotes isolation, these home are organized around a communal greenspace with shared areas such as gardens, pedestrian pathways and activity destinations. When designed with socialization as the driver, the front door is taken off of the roadway and instead positioned facing the pedestrian pathway. Through strategic layering of public and personal space, a resident can feel connected to their neighbors while still having a sense of ownership.
The identifying detail of a co-housing environment is a shared communal space. Residents enjoy the privacy of their own home or condo, but an element of the community is shared with other residents. This arrangement can support downsizing, providing manageable living space for a couple or single occupant while offering access to a larger gathering area for family get-togethers or community events. Similar to the pocket neighborhoods, the shared amenity space can increase socialization, but in this case, it also provides more direct connections to friends and neighbors, supporting an enhanced sense of security as seniors age in place.
In line with the current revival of the town center and rethinking of “the mall,” a key aspect of the mixed-use development is promoting intergenerational living. This strategy is a walkable urban environment that integrates senior living into the heart of this community. In addition to access to a variety of amenities and services, senior housing is adjacent to other apartment living options for residents of all ages.
Each of these design strategies addresses the amenities and services that are typical of a senior living community while increasing the opportunity and regularity of the casual interactions that enhance everyday life. The future of senior living is about connectivity: real connections with real people to provide the variety and activity that supports health and well-being—a strategy that can improve life for everyone.
Visit AG Insights to learn more about the senior living, multifamily and mixed-use trends being explored by AG Architecture.
Craig Witz (Guest Blogger), “The Future of Senior Living is Intergenerational,” Love & Company Blog, February 19, 2019.