Every senior, regardless of socioeconomic status, deserves the opportunity to age in place in a safe, conscientiously designed environment. To meet that need, Highland Gardens, a 114-unit apartment building with 46 units designated as public housing, was built in Milwaukee's urban community to serve culturally diverse, low-income population. According to Site Manager Pamela Talbert, residents range from 18 years of age on up. “We are not a nursing facility but rather a home, a haven, for anyone, including independent seniors, disabled people, and those who just need some help to maintain their independence” says Talbert.
Highland Gardens incorporates universal design and sustainability principles throughout the structure. Two four-story wings are connected by a one-story common area, or town square. “Off the lobby, there is a community room where residents young and old get together for meetings, social occasions, or a friendly card game. We also have exercise rooms, a game room, a library, a meditation room, and a craft room. We are planning to add a barber/beauty shop soon,” she adds. These ground-level amenities are easily accessible from the apartment wings.
To foster independence, each apartment unit can be converted to a wheelchair-accessible environment, if needed. The fronts of kitchen and bathroom cabinetry can be removed to accommodate a wheelchair. Not only does this help elder residents maintain their independence, but the design also helps agency caregivers provide services. Laundry facilities are located on each floor for ease of use by residents or caregivers.
Sustainability is also evident in the outdoor areas. There is a green roof, and an inviting courtyard with a rainwater garden provides socialization and relaxation opportunities. “In spring, children from the school across the street come over to help plant flowers. It's a nice intergenerational experience,” remarks Talbert.
Highland Gardens is a good neighbor, too. People from the community are welcome and encouraged to visit. “Our computer room is available to them,” notes Talbert. “They use the Internet, apply for GED classes, or simply learn computer skills.” Highland Gardens is the centerpiece of urban renewal for this neighborhood. The building complements the area and has spurred new construction of single-family homes.