Boomers Redefining ‘Aging in Community’

A unique seniors' cohousing project will be a part of this community in San Juan Bautista, Calif. Other features include a wine-tasting co-operative and work/home studios for artists. Photo: McCamant and Durrett Architects

Boomers Redefining ‘Aging in Community’

Architects embracing the change

Intentional communities are promising possibilities for the largest cohort of seniors North America has ever seen, and forward-thinking professionals are seizing the opportunities.

With 30 per cent of the population now hitting the retirement age, experts in sociology and aging say a revolution is coming in the way seniors live their latter years.

Having owned detached homes for most of their lives, seniors are now witnessing the loneliness associated with aging in place, and drawbacks in long-term care life; in short, they want something different for themselves, says Ken Dychtwald, a leading thinker on issues around aging.

“I think boomers are going to realize the sociology of loneliness,” he says, pointing to the current geriatric population living alone either in long-term care homes or large family homes for which they cannot care. The population approaching retirement, witnessing this, may be more likely to embrace change, he says.

Seniors who choose to live together in their final years enjoy the benefits of living in community. (Photo: McCamant and Durrett Architects, Senior Cohousing Study Group 1 flyer.)

“They may not move into a planned community but they may create a cohousing arrangement,” he says, adding that it may not be a formal cohousing arrangement, but even a group of women, for example, who come together to care for one another.

Architects are embracing the possibilities.

Matthias Hollwich is a German-born architect who now lives in the U.S. where he secured a grant to study architecture and aging. The result was a vision of a multi-generational community of people, called BOOM, which has a cluster of residential units centred around the “community buildings,” a mix of stores, health and sports centre and community gathering place.

Cohousing, itself, is not new; there are hundreds of communities in Denmark, where the concept originated. There are more than 120 in the U.S., dozens in planning, and in Canada, there are nine completed communities and another 15 planned. Some of these are specifically for those 50-plus.   

In fact, a recent documentary by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) talks about a pending “revolution in housing” for the baby boomer generation, and investigates some of the innovations that may make sense; things like thinking “old” sooner so the decisions are made well in advance.

Some experts say that the difficulty with our generational planning has been that we have not envisioned the roadblocks in our future. For example, what will happen when the 30 per cent of the population wants to sell their single-detached homes in the next 20 years? The housing market may crash.

And, while we emphasize “aging in place,” we may come to realize that we have forgotten how to stay “in community.” Aging in place may be less appealing without the community aspect, especially as we learn that social interaction is key to a longer, healthier life.

Conversation, socialization and co-caring are being increasingly recognized for their value to our elderly population. (Photo: McCamant and Durrett Architects, Senior Cohousing Study Group 1 flyer.)

The concept is definitely grabbing a market niche.

Even Bear's Lair, a take-off of the popular Canadian entrepreneurial television program Dragon’s Den, engaged a contestant this year whose concept was based on alternative living opportunities for seniors in Haliburton, Ont. Shelly Raymond and her husband Gilbert Ludlow who own Solterra Co-Housing Ltd. proposed a shared residence model for seniors based on Abbeyfield in the U.K. They already operate a similar housing project in nearby Bracebridge, Ont. and plan another for Gravenhurst, Ont.

Wolf Willow in Saskatoon is also offering the chance for boomers to make their choices sooner, rather than later. The shared-living arrangement there offers individual living units with a shared kitchen, music room and woodworking shop.

Harbourside Cohousing in Sooke, B.C. offers waterfront living in a 3900-square-foot common house and mooring facility, while providing a socially and culturally supportive network so seniors can “age in place and in community.”

One of the more unique seniors’ communities is planned for San Juan Bautista, Calif. by McCamant & Durrett Architects, The Cohousing Company. Drawings indicate a 3.5-acre site with artists’ home and work studios, a wine-tasting co-operative and Silver Arts Cohousing, a 25-unit community with a common house surrounded by cottages designed to allow seniors in this small rural community to age in town.

Even beyond the possibilities embraced by visionary architects are the individual conversations that are beginning to take place at an earlier age. People in their 40s are beginning to consider who they want to live with as they grow old, especially as the family unit has grown beyond its traditional form. They are, more often than not, saying they’d like to cohouse with people they have a history with.

A study group will take place Oct. 7-11, 2013 in Nevada City, Calif. to round up thinking on the subject of cohousing for seniors. In the list of inspiring speakers, Chuck Durrett of McCamant and Durrett Architects and Jim Leach, who has developed 18 cohousing communities including one of the first senior cohousing project in the U.S.

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Great article on the trends in retirement. Retiring with others just seems to make sense. There is a new website called Gangsaway that is all about planning retirement and has a feature where you you can plan your retirement with your friends and family. You can Research, vote, share and then do it together. Worth a look.

An article just out today backs this up from the scientific standpoint regarding health and longevity.  Still so many people in denial, though! 

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Jeanne Pengelly

Jeanne Pengelly joined Axiom News in 2012 as a video producer and online editor. Along with her 20+ years of experience in journalism, Jeanne holds a Masters in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario (1988), and has two undergraduate degrees with the majority of her course work focussing on the history and sociology of science and medicine. Jeanne has worked as a radio news director, education reporter, the editor of a small northern newspaper, freelance writer, and television journalist. She developed and produced a training program for young journalists, which included one of the first community television newsmagazine programs in the country - an accomplishment that won Jeanne and her co-producer a national award in 1994. Contact Jeanne:, or 705-741-4421 ext. 30.

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