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The New Look in Senior Living: Two Approaches Toward Social Interaction

October 1, 2006
by Long-Term Living Editors
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Based on interviews with architects Dan Rosenthal, The Lawrence Group Architects, and Steve Brown, Bernardon Haber Holloway Architects, PC

Can you create a community away from the downtown area that incorporates these ideals? That's where you get the TND. You've got a sense of a main street. You've got diverse housing, diversity in function, and mixed uses-all within a relatively small community. A new urbanist community is not just detached single-family homes. You want to have denser housing in areas, as well as larger single-family residences. We have quadplexes, duplexes, apartments, and condos. Also, the cost of housing is more diverse. You may have a townhome across the street from quadplexes or within the same community. It's a very exciting marriage. We're getting calls from a lot of traditional neighborhood developers who want to incorporate senior housing components within their communities. It supports the ideal-diversity of ages, as well as diversity in functions.   All of these ideals really meld well into what we think about as good senior housing. We're trying to create socialization in our communities and our CCRCs. Any good long-term care facility or CCRC wants to facilitate socialization. In a CCRC, there is a diversity of care, but what can be done on a societal level in the community to facilitate more interaction with the outlying community? At WestClay, there are "pocket parks" within a quarter of a mile of each residence. A pocket park is a small village green that may have some recreational element (like bocce ball) or a fountain or gazebo. It's a place for gatherings. WestClay has a park where many people like to have their wedding ceremonies. It is a walkable village-you have somewhat controlled the automobile so that it is not as dangerous to walk around the neighborhood. Ideally, you have also created an environment with a nightlife. The theory is that with commercial activity at night you will see less crime. The more eyes one has on the street, the greater the deterrent is.

You try to create focal points in the community. It may be a village center, a park, or a swimming pool. All these elements are integrated in The Village of WestClay. The Stratford has much more independent living than assisted living or comprehensive care. But even with the comprehensive care there's an opportunity to go outside. Three or four small vehicles called "The Stratford Surreys"-basically red bubble-topped golf carts-will be used to shuttle the residents to and from the village center. We've created a lot of opportunities internal to our site, such as courtyards, for outdoor recreation. We've also created internal recreation in the form of theaters, media centers, a swimming pool, a billiards hall, a fitness center, and a variety of dining venues.

The assisted, skilled, and Alzheimer's components are much smaller in these facilities. I don't know if that's a trend, but I am seeing it in our projects. And I think both sides benefit; staff-to-resident ratios are better and it creates a less institutional feeling because there may only be 12 residents served by a single dining hall and a smaller staff, whereas the entire facility may have more than 200 residents. From a marketing standpoint, residents want to move into the independent living side, but they also want to have the comfort of knowing that a higher level of care is available. There are distinct "neighborhoods" for assisted living, comprehensive care, and Alzheimer's care, which is within a secured environment with a private courtyard. All of the distinct components have their own dining venues. The use of the other amenities may be programmed at different times; for instance, the use of the pool may be limited by the activity that has been programmed for that time slot.   There still are the common challenges that you have in most CCRCs. How can you make your operations more efficient? If you have central recreation facilities that independent bungalow dwellers can use as well as assisted living dwellers, then you're taking advantage of some efficiencies-you're also providing some valuable services. You can have a central, commercial kitchen that may support a lot of satellite kitchens throughout the facility, bringing a craft kitchen closer to the skilled nursing environment. Activities of daily living are not just basic and mundane, they are opportunities for bringing pleasure and richness to somebody's life. If you can smell the food that's being prepared, if you can watch the food being prepared in your dining environment, that's adding to the richness of life.

In our quadplex bungalow neighborhoods, I see high density. I see much more concentration on pedestrian paths between buildings and from the quadplex bungalow neighborhood to the main building, which serves as the recreational and dining center. We're facilitating pedestrian movement better than we have in the past. There's an opportunity for having a front door from a pedestrian path instead of creating the front door from a driveway.  

When you have a high density and you still have a high proportion of independent living residents driving, you have to accommodate their cars in a community that really is pedestrian focused. Underground garages are often the solution. The benefit is that there is great convenience in being able to drive under the building and take an elevator to your dwelling, but there are added costs to that solution.