Monday, February 27, 2006

Geriatric Commune Built in California

The New York Times today has an interesting article on a cohousing project in Davis, California developed by and for a group of retirees. The small development, called Glacier Circle, features a series of townhomes and a "common house" that allows for gathering and socializing. The idea behind this development is to enhance social networks that are often in a state of uncertainty for many seniors.

Employing a modified "superblock" layout--the development is part of a movement challenging the modernist impulse to institutionalize the elderly and to resist the rather vacuous "lifestyle communities" that dominate the upper-class retirement landscape.

One issue that does not get addressed in the Times article is the fact that the segmentation of urban function that characterizes post-War North American suburban development has been profoundly anti-elderly. While Glacier Circle further advances that project, it is important to note that vibrant social networks and the compact urban form that marks pre-War cities offer a great deal of autonomy for seniors. In a city, the proximity of shopping, social activity, and multiple transportation options can enhance the quality of life for people as their physical mobility declines.

Social isolation still exists in urban areas--as Eric Klinenberg has demonstrated in his treatment of patterns of elderly mortality during Chicago's 1995 heat wave--but more concern with the particular needs and interests of historically-underrepresented populations such as the elderly or children can provide inspiration for more sensible general planning policies.