Old People Everywhere

Reinvent retirement. Now.

Elders belong in the community. It's wrong to segregate them.

Let's begin by quoting Statistics New Zealand:

The population of New Zealand is ageing. Its most documented feature is the growing size of the elderly population and its increasing share of the total population. Other features include a rise in the average age of population, a decreasing proportion of children, and an ageing labour force...  At present there are about half as many elderly New Zealanders as children. By 2051, there are projected to be at least 60 percent more elderly than children.

The VillageTown is intended as a complete community, for all ages, stages and walks of life. This includes our elders. As A Pattern Language identifies (see below), the segregation and isolation of elders is a bad idea.

The VillageTown provides multiple housing environments for the elderly within the community:

  1. Build Elder Housing in the Villages: There comes a point in life when the elder finds all of the stuff of life is too much. They want to simplify. For them, a purpose-built, ground floor unit is provided - best if it is within 50 metres of the village plaza - that does not have a threshold or stairs, has sensors that shut off the kitchen stove if smoke is detected, and is designed so that neighbors can be alerted if there is no activity within.
  2. Build Nursing Care Facilities on each Village Plaza: For those elders who become infirm or suffer from dementia, small-scale nursing facilities are provided on the village plazas. This means that during the day, their friends and neighbors can easily visit without going out of their way. Those who wish, even if wheelchair bound can be wheeled to the village cafe to enjoy the activity, even if all they do is observe. Some may be able to participate, to help out.
  3. Design the Car-free Urban Core to be safe for the senile: Dementia brings its own challenges, especially for those lovely people whose functional memory is completely gone, and who have a tendency to wander. It becomes much safer in a car-free environment, especially if the urban core perimeter is designed in a way that contains both these elders and wandering toddlers. It is not hard to design lovely bracelets that identify the wander's village so the shepherds can be called to gather up their lost flock of wandering elders.

It is important that these higher levels of care be provided as part of a town-wide self-insurance program, rather than burdening the elder or elderly couple with exceptional costs that drain their assets to zero and then they become a burden on the state. The elder-houses are parallel market, meaning designed to be low cost for elders only, and perhaps means tested. The nursing care facilities should have their capital cost paid out of initial profits, and their staffing cost out of the self-insurance annual fees (or annual income the VillageTown generates in its for-profit investments). This leaves a nominal cost to rent a room and be fed, the sum total of which should be affordable on the normal retirement pension.

The VillageTown supports "settled work." The idea of working until age 65 and then retiring is obsolete. In indigenous societies, elders were honoured and participating members of their community. They may slow down, but it is the engagement that keeps them vital. It also provides the community with goods and services that might otherwise not be possible. Elders are no longer supporting growing families so they can work in businesses that bring in less money, but make a community contribution. 

To learn more on Baby Boomer retirement, go here.

To learn more on elder life, go here.

 

From A Pattern Language Old People Everywhere

40 Old people need old people, but they also need the young, and young people need contact with the old.

There is a natural tendency for old people to gather together in clusters or communities. But when these elderly communities are too isolated or too large, they damage young and old alike. The young in other parts of town, have no chance of the benefit of older company, and the old people themselves are far too isolated.

Treated like outsiders, the aged have increasingly clustered together for mutual support or simply to enjoy themselves. A now familiar but still amazing phenomenon has sprung up in the past decade: dozens of good-sized new towns that exclude people under 65. Built on cheap, outlying land, such communities offer two-bedroom houses starting at $18,000 [This was written in 1977, inflation adjusted it is US$75,000 but in reality $180,000 would be more realistic] plus a refuge from urban violence . . . and generational pressures. (Time, August 3, 1970.)

But the choice the old people have made by moving to these communities and the remarks above are a serious and painful reflection of a very sad state of affairs in our culture. The fact is that contemporary society shunts away old people; and the more shunted away they are, the deeper the rift between the old and young. The old people have no choice but to segregate themselves they, like anyone else, have pride; they would rather not be with younger people who do not appreciate them, and they feign satisfaction to justify their position.

And the segregation of the old causes the same rift inside each individual life: as old people pass into old age communities their ties with their own past become unacknowledged, lost, and there fore broken. Their youth is no longer alive in their old age - the two become dissociated; their lives are cut in two.

In contrast to the situation today, consider how the aged were respected and needed in traditional cultures:

Some degree of prestige for the aged seems to have been practically universal in all known societies. This is so general, in fact, that it cuts across many cultural factors that have appeared to determine trends in other topics related to age. (The Role of Aged in Primitive Society, Leo W. Simmons, New Haven: Yale University Press, I945, p. 69.)

More specifically:

. . . Another family relationship of great significance for the aged has been the commonly observ~ed intimate association between the very young and the very old. Frequently they have been left together at home while the able-bodied have gone forth to earn the family living These oldsters, in their wisdom and experience, have protected and instructed the little ones, while the children, in turn, have acted as the "eyes, ears, hands, and feet" of their feeble old friends. Care of the young has thus very generally provided the aged with a useful occupation and a vivid interest in life during the long dull days of senescence. (Ibid. p. 199.)

Clearly, old people cannot be integrated socially as in traditional cultures unless they are first integrated physically - unless they share the same streets, shops, services, and common land with everyone else. But, at the same time, they obviously need other old people around them; and some old people who are infirm need special services.

And of course old people vary in their need or desire to be among their own age group. The more able-bodied and independent they are, the less they need to be among other old people, and the farther they can be from special medical services. The variation in the amount of care they need ranges from complete nursing care; to semi-nursing care involving house calls once a day or twice a week; to an old person getting some help with shopping, cooking, and cleaning; to an old person being completely independent. Right now, there is no such fine differentiation made in the care of old people - very often people who simply need a little help cooking and cleaning are put into rest homes which provide total nursing care, at huge expense to them, their families, and the community. It is a psychologically debilitating situation, and they turn frail and helpless because that is the way they are treated.

We therefore need a way of taking care of old people which provides for the full range of their needs:

1. It must allow them to stay in the neighborhood they know best - hence some old people in every neighborhood.

2. It must allow old people to be together, yet in groups small enough not to isolate them from the younger people in the neighborhood.

3. It must allow those old people who are independent to live independently, without losing the benefits of communality.

4. It must allow those who need nursing care or prepared meals, to get it, without having to go to nursing homes far from the neighborhood.

All these requirements can be solved together, very simply, if every neighborhood contains a small pocket of old people, not concentrated all in one place, but fuzzy at the edges like a swarm of bees. This will both preserve the symbiosis between young and old, and give the old people the mutual support they need within the pockets. Perhaps 20 might live in a central group house, another 10 or 15 in cottages close to this house, but interlaced with other houses, and another 10 to 15 also in cottages, still further from the core, in among the neighborhood, yet always within 100 or 200 yards of the core, so they can easily walk there to play chess, have a meal, or get help from the nurse.

The number 50 comes from Mumford's argument:

The first thing to be determined is the number of aged people to be accommodated in a neighborhood unit; and the answer to this, I submit, is that the normal age distribution in the community as a whole should be maintained. This means that there should be from five to eight people over sixty-five in every hundred people; so that in a neighborhood unit of, say, six hundred people, there would be between thirty and fifty old people. (Lewis Mumford, The Human Prospect, New York, I968, p. 49.)

As for the character of the group house, it might vary from case to case. In some cases it might be no more than a commune, where people cook together and have part-time help from young girls and boys, or professional nurses. However, about 5 per cent of the nation's elderly need full-time care. This means that two or three people in every 50 will need complete nursing care. Since a nurse can typically work with six to eight people, this suggests that every second or third neighborhood group house might be equipped with complete nursing care.

Therefore:

Create dwellings for some 50 old people in every neighborhood. Place these dwellings in three rings . . . 1. A central core with cooking and nursing provided. 2. Cottages near the core. 3. Cottages further out from the core, mixed among the other houses of the neighborhood, but never more than 200 yards from the core. . . . in such a way that the 50 houses together form a single coherent swarm, with its own clear center, but interlocked at its periphery with other ordinary houses of the neighborhood.