The answer to how to create better senior living environments is rooted in rethinking planning from an urban point of view and including a diversity of building types, said speakers John Shreve, a principal at Populous Architects & Planners, and Joe Colistra, associate professor at the University of Kansas, on Monday at the Environments for Aging Conference in Baltimore.
"Architecture drives how people socialize," Shreve said, during their session "Intergenerational Living and Design: Architecture, Landscape, and Social Fabric."
The key is to take an integrated approach that encourages people of different ages and backgrounds to come together. To create that setting, Colistra discussed some of the basic physical characteristics of integrated development, including the importance of having active landscapes, universal design, a clinical program, closeness to nature, and an academic link. 
Several years ago, Shreve began working with Dennis Domer, owner and principal of Commons Development Company (CDC), and Shreve's former professor, to look at the future of aging and architecture from an interdisciplinary perspective. They began a concept called New Cities and also established the Boomer Futures Think Tank, where experts on gerontology, demographics, sociology, and more, give lectures to a diverse audience to share knowledge and spark conversation and ideas. 
They're putting a lot of their ideas and discussions into practice through one of CDC's projects called Prairie Commons, a 150-plus acre intergenerational community in Olathe, Kan. Phase 1 of the project will include multifamily housing and senior and market apartment components, along with retail and a community emergency and urgent care center.
The idea, Shreve said, is to "create a whole series of choices that aren't stigmatized to one age group." 
The model is designed to scale up or down and will feature some key element that he said represent a new approach to the village, including:
  • The Edible Village: The idea is to include not just garden space but productive landscapes, such as organic working farms, farmers markets, and culinary schools.
  • The Aerobic Village: Rather than having residents think about going to the gym or exercise class, the built environment should encourage an active lifestyle with a pedestrian friendly design that connects services and buildings together.
  • The Cognitive Village: By collaborating with academics and professors, the residential setting can be fertile ground for research and studies and serve as a living laboratory.
  • The Connected Village: Technology that empowers and connects people is essential. Ideas range from in-room sensors that can detect falls to bed monitoring systems that can detect irregular sleep patterns and help diagnose underlying conditions that normally would take weeks to manifest, thus contributing to preventative care. 
"Emerging technology holds great potential to change lifestyles and environments," Shreve said.