We baby boomers have undoubtedly a reputation for being radical and it is time to live up to it again. We are expected to figure it out ourselves – fast – how we will live this next stage in life. Radical solutions would respond to the core values of sustainable living; community, affordability, adaptability, age accessibility and beauty/delight.
Examples emerged from our own work and research, a recent interdisciplinary dialogue among Bay Area thought leaders at the Family Service Agency in San Francisco on ‘aging in place’ and the qualities of age friendly design ( ‘A Day In The Life’ ) and my presentation at the Dwell on Design Conference in Los Angeles on ‘Radical Design For Baby Boomers – Aging In Place’.
1. Sharing A Home is not your room mate experience from college days but rather a rethinking of how we use and redesign existing, standard home types for a greater variety of needs and life styles. For example reintroducing the idea of a ‘granny flat’ by converting a garage into a smartly designed senior unit would allow many residents in San Francisco walk-ups to age in place in their own home and encourage intergenerational living. A suburban ranch house typically accessible without stairs, could reinvent itself as suburban farm for some like minded friends who want to share resources and invest together in the practice of ‘farm to table’ and healthy aging.
What is radical about it? Cities would have to change zoning laws and create ‘senior ordinances’ to allow for single family residences to be converted into a family unit and a senior unit without requirements for additional parking. Our homes can no longer be valued by the number of ‘rooms’ or the square footage they have, but rather we ought to measure their worth by their ability to adapt to our individualism and variety of household configurations and life styles.
2. Home Swapping might seem even more extreme but there are ways we already do it, from AirBnB to vacation home swaps. So why not trade upstairs for downstairs when needs and priorities change. Residents of a tightly knit development, built in the 70s in the heart of San Francisco is already talking about such option for its long term residents.
What is radical about it? Even though the neighborhood of a home is always part of its value, such trades would require a more detailed rating system that attaches value to the criteria of a ‘LifeSpan’ home, from a walkability score to age accessibility, safety and other amenities. A pilot project in Switzerland for such rating system is already under way.
3. Building Officials could become advocates for LifeSpan Homes by educating people on how to make their project more age friendly in the context of their construction budget, the project objective and the characteristics of a specific neighborhood.
What is radical about it? Evolving the role of the building official from enforcing building code regulations to ensure the life/safety of a home would create a new breed of public servant.
4. Ever heard of a Para-Architect or Home-Health Designer? What ever this is called we need a new profession to provide design as a social service to assist people in adapting their homes to their individual needs as care giving increasingly shifts from more institutional settings to the home.
What is radical about it? This needs somebody who is trained in ‘light’ architecture, social services, occupational therapy and psychology. Disciplines would have to move beyond their outdated boundaries. The healthcare industry needs to realize the importance of an appropriate home setting in reducing readmission cost and set parameters for funding home health.