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Report: Memo to Architects: Think Daring


“I miss being part of the community,” Vivian Turner told me. “It’s not the same here.”

It was early December, and I was visiting my 87-year-old friend and her husband in their new home. They had just moved into a posh retirement residence, about 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa, Ontario.

Anne Leitch appears to share my friend’s sentiments. The 75-year-old resident of the San Francisco Bay Area (California) recently wrote to an online forum (Generations: Vol. 33, No. 2, 2009):

I live in a gated senior community with all the amenities one could dream of – workshops, handicrafts, exercise. You name it, we have it.

And yet I am longing, longing to walk to the corner coffee shop, to hear the sound of children playing, dogs barking. I want to eat at the corner café, see young people in love, walk to the library, catch the BART into the city, watch mothers with their children in the park, young families, teenies in the latest wild outfits.

Leitch misses being part of the mainstream. She opposes segregating the old. And in light of the demographic shift, she urges architects to think outside the box: “Instead of a multimillion-dollar resort where every need is met and everything is planned . . . think up something daring, something challenging, something creative.”

New options

Meanwhile, groups of feisty 70 and 80 year-old Danes are buying sites and hiring their own architects, according to architect and writer Dorit Fromm.

In the summer edition of The Journal (2009), Fromm describes Egbakken, one of more than 200 senior co-housing communities in Denmark. The community has 28 private units and a central common house.

Senior cohousing allows individuals to tailor a community for aging together. Typically, co-housing is composed of a cluster of 15 to 40 households with cars parked on the site’s periphery. Each unit contains one or two bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. Generally, individual units are designed five to 15 per cent smaller than an average home.

Common facilities include a dining hall, where residents enjoy weekly dinners, which can range from potluck to gourmet. There are also meeting rooms, guest rooms and a workshop area. Residents pool resources for services such as a visiting nurse, a housekeeper to maintain the common area and a van and driver.

As Fromm notes, “While there can be financial advantages to sharing amenities and the cost for care, the bottom line is that it is all about creating a better day-to-day life for people.”

Affordable housing

Back in Ottawa, community members are concerned by the shortage of affordable housing for older adults. The Centretown Citizens Community Association has embarked on a study of housing options in the downtown area. They are looking at shared housing, creating community and community non-profits.