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OP-ED: New senior living communities catering to baby boomers

Daily Journal of Commerce

February 14th 2014

Baby boomers are redefining retirement. While previous generations of retirees headed south to warm climates, many boomers plan to remain in their local communities, staying close to family and friends. And with longer life expectancy and more active retirements planned than previous generations, today's seniors are seeking communities that align with their living preferences.

Senior living community design has evolved to meet the demands of the baby boomers, many whom are opting for a luxurious urban setting with access to a wealth of diverse activities, entertainment and dining. Whether a high-rise condominium affording downtown city living or an intimate community in the suburbs, the communities most popular with boomers feature resort-like amenities and all-inclusive services on-site or nearby, easily accessed through public transportation or within walking distance.

Those of us who are in the business of designing and developing senior living communities are advised to stay attune to evolving trends set forth by boomer retirees, for both new construction and redevelopment. Key trends include:

Urban living

Many retirees feel right at home in apartment-style towers, typically situated in vibrant downtown locations with easy transit options that allow seniors to live in the heart of a bustling city. These types of communities are perfect for retirees who prefer to stay out of the elements except when necessary, and who no longer have the desire to tend to their garden.

For retirees who desire the same urban access to shopping, dining and entertainment, yet want a more serene, suburban setting, communities are being developed that incorporate a "Main Street" concept - complete with storefront amenities such as a cafe, a wine bar, full-service salon, art studio and more.

These walkable, safe and urban lifestyle communities evoke a small town community for senior living, and meet the desire to live in a neighborhood, not downtown. Locally, this is the approach Rose Villa Senior Living is incorporating into its redevelopment; ground is slated to be broken in May.

Creative site design

Plots of land can present a unique design challenge. Whereas senior living communities were previously built on eight- to 12-acre plots, many are now challenged by the constraints of a one- to two-acre parcel. Vertical designs, including two- and three-story mixed-use buildings, foster an active pedestrian street life. Street-level storefronts encourage community residents and the general public to patronize restaurants, shops and bars.

Also trending is the "pocket neighborhood" concept - clustering homes together around a shared courtyard or common area to create a sense of community. The small-scale home designs are often built on one level, allowing for a visual and social connection with other neighbors.

Hospitality/wellness

In 1960, the average life expectancy was 69.7 years. By 2011, that number climbed to almost 79. Today's seniors are healthier, fitter and more active than any previous generation.

Today's senior living communities offer wellness programs incorporating fitness and healthy eating, and encourage an active and fitness-centric lifestyle. State-of-the-art spas, gyms and pools feature a daily and changing menu of classes and activities, such as yoga, swimming and spinning.

Nutrition

There is an emphasis on healthy eating - and access to organic and sustainably-harvested food -and more community designs are incorporating a community garden. These gardens allow residents to grow and harvest their own food, and in turn, share the abundance with others. They also enable chefs to incorporate organic, fresh and local foods into the menu. On-site kitchens and dining rooms resemble four-star restaurants with open kitchens that allow residents to see how their food is prepared.

Boomer retirees are establishing a new bar for the design components and amenities of senior living communities. The services that adequately served many seniors from the "Eisenhower generation" fall short of what the baby boomers of the "Kennedy generation" desire. Simply put, retirement communities no longer feel like retirement communities. Today's communities are all about active living and setting the tone for seniors to live the life they want.

Bob Boileau is a principal at Myhre Group Architects with more than 30 years of experience in architecture and urban design. Contact him at 503-236-6000.