The Good Old Days: Design for the Age-Friendly Environment

Thanks to longer lifespans, lower fertility rates, and the aging of the baby boomer population, the United States is getting older. Already, there are more Americans age 65 and older than at any other time in U.S. history; between now and 2020, the population of persons 65 and older will increase by 50 percent, a rate 10 times the Census Bureau\’s projected five percent increase in those aged 18 to 64.

How will our cities and suburbs manage this massive demographic shift?

This studio considers a model that the AARP recently called \”the most dormant and overlooked form of senior housing:\” the NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community). A NORC is a place (a building, a development, a neighborhood) with a large senior population that wasn\’t purpose-built to be a senior community. Once designated a NORC, a place becomes eligible for local, state, and federal funds to retroactively provide it with the support services seniors need. Since an overwhelming majority (89 percent, by one measure) of seniors today would prefer to \”age in place\” in their neighborhood or home, and since as few as nine percent of seniors say they want to live in an age-segregated community, NORCs present an attractive alternative to purpose-built retirement communities.

But as former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros recently put it, seniors who want to age in place \”are aging in traditional homes, neighborhoods, and communities that were designed for yesterday\’s demographic realities.\” In New York, for example, most NORCs are in places that were explicitly not designed to be senior communities. In New York City, 33 of 42 NORCs are in Corbusian \”towers-in-the-park,\” and some of the first suburban NORCs in the country have popped up in postwar suburbs around Levittown. While both typologies have demonstrated a certain amount of resiliency, both present unique challenges. In Long Island\’s suburbs, for example, a lack of housing and mobility options has resulted in many seniors being isolated in houses they can\’t maintain.

\”The Good Old Days\” is an interdisciplinary studio that challenges students of all departments to come up with creative ways to help seniors in NORCs in New York City and Long Island age in place. After visiting a sampling of NORCs in Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island, students will meet with seniors, NORC directors, healthcare professionals, medical researchers, and representatives from New York City\’s Department for the Aging, Housing Authority, Department of Transportation, and others involved in the city\’s pioneering \”Age-Friendly New York City\” initiative in order to better understand the challenges and opportunities that come with aging in place in New York. Students will then draw on this research to creatively identify opportunities for architectural, planning, or landscape-based interventions.

Note therefore that there is no one site or problem in this studio: deliverables are expected (and encouraged) to be diverse.

Field trips are planned to New York City, Long Island, and Central Florida. The Villages (the world\’s largest retirement community) and other experiments in retirement.

Goal: To help seniors age in place in environments that weren\’t designed for seniors

Pedagogic Objectives

  • To learn how to understand and design for the specific needs of a user, in this case the senior citizen
  • To understand resiliency and adaptability of architectural archetypes, in this case the tower-in-the-park and the postwar suburb
  • To learn how to identify opportunities for creative interventions
  • To learn how to propose ideas that will resonate with a target audience
  • To learn how to visually and verbally communicate ideas in a way that ensures they will resonate with a target audience