Intergenerational is the new mixed-use

Intergenerational is the new mixed-use

Written by Jack Silverstein

The demand by seniors to not be called “seniors” is not one of vanity. It is one of realism. With life expectancy rising and health levels improving, the traditional notion of a “senior” is no longer relevant.

Today’s senior wants to live in a community that offers an active lifestyle, a connection to the outside community and avenues to share their lifetime of experiences, skills, knowledge and wisdom. Their desires and demands are increasingly coalescing into an ever-expansive senior housing model:

Intergenerational living.

Also known as multigenerational living, this concept of merging generations to solve disparate housing problems is not new. What is new is the execution of the vision and the abundance of the product. From New Urbanism to lifelong aging-in-place to reverse urban senior living, providers are embracing and even inventing new approaches to deliver the cross-generational experiences that today’s seniors crave.

Six exciting trends point the way to the new opportunity in intergenerational senior living. One of those six is the power of affinity groups, which we will explore next week in a separate story.

Here, now, are the other five trends changing the face of intergenerational senior living, gleaned from interviews with more than 20 people leading the charge.

Embracing the tenets of New Urbanism

When Otterbein SeniorLife hired a team of developers in 2014 to plan nearly 1,200 acres of land it owned that surrounds its 200-acre CCRC in Lebanon, Ohio, the senior living provider wanted to give its nearly 900 residents access to a richer life with more connections to other ages, activities, amenities and resources.

The resulting master-plan will take 30 to 50 years to complete, changing the lives of its senior population. It will do so by embracing a growing philosophy of living: New Urbanism.

“All New Urbanists believe that the built environment matters — that where and how you build and develop has a dramatic implication for the economy, public health, quality of life and the environment,” says Lynn Richards, president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

While New Urbanism is not explicitly about seniors, it is about intergenerational senior living via the “8-to-80 principle”: a community must be built specifically to serve eight-year-olds, 80-year-olds and everyone in between.

“As we began to work with them and learn more about the concepts of New Urban planning — the walkability, the green spaces, having amenities there — we could do it in a way that was age-friendly so that seniors could buy property and live in this community and have easy access to all of the amenities,” says Jill Wilson, president and CEO of Otterbein.

Intergenerational is the new mixed-use

When government agencies in Singapore sought to locate a variety of public need facilities under one roof, including public housing for seniors, WOHA Architects delivered Kampung Admiralty, a mixed-use, intergenerational age-restricted public housing high-rise for people 55 years and older.

The community is Singapore’s first integrated public development. It is also a winning example of how providers can use intergenerational arrangements to their advantage, just as they do with mixed-use. In mixed-use senior living, developers use retail and restaurants to entice a municipality into approving a community, because those elements give the senior community value for neighboring non-residents.

At Kampung and others, the senior residents are a portion of the enticement. These communities offer non-residents the benefits of living near seniors, be that in the form of a rich social life or the assistance seniors offer for young parents and their children.

Kampung was designed to draw the public in, thus giving neighbors access to a rich array of amenities, and more green space — via Kampung’s luscious roof — than is available in the surrounding area.

Lifelong aging-in-place

Nobody wants to be forced from a lifelong home simply due to aging. As such, design principles that let people age in place are gaining popularity.

But aging in place does not just have to begin in a person’s 50s. Some developers are now finding ways to build homes designed to let people age in place starting in their 30s.

Copper Lane co-housing is London’s first co-housing project, and although it was not built for any seniors when it opened in 2014, its design will allow its occupants in their 50s to remain there into their 80s and beyond. Architecture firm Henley Halebrown accomplished this by following the UK’s Lifetime Homes design principles.

“For (our residents), seeing their future being less mobile even in the next 10, 15 or 20 years, and being a part of a community that evolves and has younger people is a real boon,” says Neil Rodgers, an associate architect with the UK-based Henley Halebrown.

Building partnerships, even with competitors

All-ages developer Robert Turner is among those who helped create the master-plan that will turn Otterbein Lebanon SeniorLife Community into the centerpiece of a massive, master-planned, intergenerational, mixed-use community.

The experiences that Turner and other New Urbanist developers are having with senior living are opening their eyes to the opportunities in the industry. That means these developers are a potential threat to senior living operators — or a partner.

“If you’re truly just a senior provider, you can see that we’re taking this space and doing these New Urbanist projects,” Turner says. “But the better way to look at it is, ‘How can we incorporate the two?’”

Turner knew very little about senior living when he started the Otterbein project. What he knew was master-planned work in the all-ages, mixed-use space.

“If I can say, ‘Hey Jill (Otterbein’s Jill Wilson), let’s incorporate these things together — you bring your knowledge, we’ll bring ours,’ and create places that are better places for people to stay and live for a long life, I think it’s a win-win,” he says.

Urban senior living… in reverse

In 1912, Otterbein SeniorLife purchased 4,500 acres of land for $350,000 to continue the Christian mission-based living of the United Brethren Church. For close to 100 years, it sold parcels of that property as a revenue stream, and today owns 1,440 acres, only 200 of which is used for senior living.

Now, the company is embarking on a journey that will develop the remaining 1,200 acres into a community with intergenerational benefits for the senior residents. The result is a powerful, intriguing concept: reverse urban senior living.

“The trend has been for senior living to go into cities or towns,” Turner says. “But this was interesting in that they already had that, and now they’re building the town around the (seniors).”

The first phase of the buildout is underway, and will bring 89 market-rate, single family homes, plus townhouses and apartments. The first pieces of the town center are also included in this phase, including restaurants, coffee shops, physician offices and an arts and culture center. These are amenities that can be used by both the CCRC residents and the surrounding neighbors.

The end result will be 3,400 multi-generational residences, along with retail, grocery, restaurants, hotels, schools, churches and theater — everything the people in the community need on a daily basis.

“What we are selling is a lifestyle,” Wilson says. “Having empty nesters, millennials and our retirement (residents) all mixed into one, to me, makes for a great option for good lifestyles.”

This article draws from the new report, “The New Opportunity for Intergenerational Senior Living.”

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