Yes, it still starts in Kansas. I was invited recently to talk to the New Cities Initiative at the University of Kansas about design for intergenerational living “Outside Places of People – Opportunities for Connectivity and being ‘At Home With Growing Old’. Dennis Domer is leading Kansas University Lawrence in the effort to create a truly intergenerational community. He has been working tirelessly over the last couple of years in laying the groundwork for the development of a 60 acre parcel land in a suburban part of Lawrence that is quickly taking on the makings of another urban center. The goal is to build a framework which benefits young and old and that fosters intergenerational solidarity and collaboration. On board is developer Lane4 Property Group, the University of Kansas and Lawrence Memorial Hospital with a Health Satellite.
For all of us being able to partake in society at our own terms is a huge part of independence and our sense of self and purpose – we belong, we are valuable. This is true throughout life and especially becomes pertinent in older age as we have to adjust to cognitive and physical changes and in our childhood as we build our memories about ‘home’ and the freedom and safety to discover ourselves. Designing for those two groups has great potential for synergy, from a street that is designed for people and not for cars to creating shared outdoor space and adjacencies for the old and the young at times when they are dependent on others, such as a skilled nursing facility and daycare center.
How much easier is it for parents to pick up their child at the day care and then walk over and visit together a relative or friend. How much opportunity is there for a child to learn about relations and see old age as part of life and not as a separate stage.
Creating this kind of opportunities for intersections between generations was at the center of my presentation. What outside ‘connectors’ encourage people to venture outside and mingle? How can we bring the world inside through homes designed to encourage a variety of households, from multi-generational to households who have rediscovered the concept of room mates in a ‘grown-up’ way.
Or taking it a step further – why not make senior housing part of a sports arena or an opera, making going ‘abroad’ really easy?
How can we design to simplify life through intergenerational commitments to assist each other, a retired neighbor leading a walking group of kids to school, a parent being cared for in our home or in walking distance to our home.
At the core is an inclusive approach to design that acknowledges the nonstandard way we all function in by listening more to ourselves and the many “expert” users who are out there. No one person or discipline can accomplish this by themselves. The complex needs of later years concurrent with the increasingly complex needs of most of us, from working parents to overwhelmed children, can promote such interdisciplinary, imaginary solutions that benefit us all through more thoughtfully, better designed housing and communities that design for interaction and not segregation. The team’s vision for an intergenerational village has the making for such a place. Stay tuned!