The influx of baby boomers approaching the age when they are ready for a new phase in life is not just a matter of size; it is also about influence, including the broadening effect of this generation on housing for the elderly as a keystone of urban design.
Today’s senior housing developments are shaped by several features that are unique to this age group:
1. Baby boomers want to stay engaged in their communities and with their professions and activities.
This generation has been redefining retirement since the oldest members reached their mid-60s about 10 years ago. Today, baby boomers are between 57 and 76 years old. Many want to stay connected to their social and/or professional community and plan to stay both active and productive, whether by volunteering or working part-time.
Because location is key to giving baby boomers the opportunity to stay active, how a building relates and connects residents to its surroundings is a key factor in the design of urban retirement homes. This is why co-located developments – those that place complementary uses within the same building or close to each other – have become an increasingly popular approach.
At Newman Lofts, the 91-unit active adult development my company, BKV Group, designed for Harbor Bay Advisors, Michigan State University’s campus life energy is right on the doorstep of residents. The neighborhood offers many cultural, recreational and educational options, and within the building residents find – as an extension of their home – a suite of lifestyle-oriented amenities. Co-located with the adjacent 273-unit Landmark on Grand River, student housing also designed by BKV Group and built concurrently, the development offers cross-generational amalgamation while fully serving each distinct demographic.
2. Baby boomers have longer life expectancies and well-being will improve in those extra years.
This generation views wellness through a holistic lens, including community connection, lifelong learning, and social engagement.
Access to a wide variety of activities is one of the benefits of an urban setting, but senior living developments can advance this community integration with innovative and designed amenities.
At Abiitan Mill City, an Ecumen community designed by the BKV Group in the Mill District of Minneapolis offering independent living, assisted living and memory care, neighbors are welcome to enter the building through shops of retail on the ground floor and outdoor leisure spaces. Public offerings include a fitness center where personal trainers work with residents and non-residents, a restaurant that doubles as the development’s dining hall, a music center, and a boardwalk along the Mississippi River.
Abiitan Mill City’s mixed-use design lends itself to community engagement, but let’s consider other ways to create similar connections through existing spaces. An indoor pool can be used for exercise classes and therapy under contract with a third-party provider in the community. The hair/beauty salon could offer spa-inspired services such as manicures, pedicures, and massages facilitated by local businesses. Peer-led educational programs or classes taught by local colleges can be held in lounges or other larger spaces.
3. According to Pew Research, nearly 40% of baby boomers are in the lowest income bracket, making housing affordability critical.
Although urban land tends to be more expensive, cities and suburban town centers can be ideal for affordable development for seniors. Access to public transportation can reduce, if not eliminate, the developer’s expense of providing parking, as well as residents’ need for cars.
There are ways to offset the extra expense for more affordable market-priced communities, which offer lower-priced units with no income thresholds, and subsidized developments with set income requirements.
A design that maximizes units and minimizes parking is, again, an option. Another space-saving solution: keep amenity offerings handy to ensure every square foot is utilized, whether as shared space or as private residences. The ability to build taller structures in urban areas also helps offset land costs.
Shared housing in mixed-income housing developments is another strategy for creating lower-cost housing for seniors. Bren Road Station, an affordable 262-unit seniors community designed by BKV Group in Minnetonka, MN, is part of a larger mixed-income/mixed-age development just two blocks from a new station light rail. Senior residents of Bren Road Station have access to comfortable, well-appointed residences in a building with indoor amenities as well as easy access to downtown offerings.
4. With their desire to age in place, the influence of baby boomers will extend far into the future.
Currently, strategies such as mixed income, mixed age, and mixed use are most prevalent in working adult communities. But given their undeniable benefits, we anticipate that further developments offering varying levels of care and service will follow. We see some developers already planning their facilities to accommodate seniors who want the option to age in place with higher levels of care by incorporating flexible shell space or anticipating secondary construction for independent living and care. memory.
David Banta is Associate Partner and Chief Design Officer of BKV Group.
The opinions expressed in each McKnight Senior Residence guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight Senior Residence.
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