To what extent and how well are planners and designers creating places for the aged? This is the underlying question guiding two books on communities for aging. The two volumes represent two distinct but related approaches to providing housing and, by extension, some sense of community for aging residents. This is an important topic in part because planners and especially designers often tend to approach the overall design process with the young and able-bodied in mind, with the inclusion of accessible design details primarily to ensure that elderly and handicapped users are able to physically access the site, as required by the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act (commonly referred to as being “ADA compliant”).
The first book, Design for Aging: International Case Studies of Building and Program (Wiley Series in Healthcare and Senior Living Design), by Jeffrey W. Anderzhon, et. al (Wiley, 2012, $85, 336 p.) focuses on the more traditional approach of designing facilities for the aged. Highlighting best practices from around the world, it provides an overview of each site in detail and assesses each one in terms of how well it accomplishes its designers’ goals as well as the authors’ own criteria. A primary concern here is to provide an environment that its residents, especially those suffering from senility, will view as familiar. This idea ﬂies in the face of many designers wishes, since many tend to value the designer’s desire for uniqueness and innovation over mimicking the environment its future users will recognize as familiar.
While these are best practices the author has selected himself, they are not above the authors’ criticism. Each case study is brief but thorough and follow a general template. It is valuable as much as a multicultural study on design for aging communities as it is a “best practices” approach. The book will likely be most useful to architects, but planners interested in learning more about the rationale for designs for senior living facilities will ﬁnd it useful as well.
Livable Design for Aging Populations: Urban Design for Longevity by M. Scott Ball (Wiley, 2012, $85, 304 pp.), on the other hand, takes another approach. Rather than looking at facilities designed specifically for aging adult populations, it takes the standpoint that existing neighborhoods with residents from varying age groups can be designed to better accommodate aging populations. Such an approach has various benefits, according to the author. Seniors are not only able to maintain their membership in their given community and continue to enjoy their independent lifestyle in a traditional neighborhood, but can also continue to contribute to their neighborhood in meaningful ways.
Although this topic has been broached elsewhere before, Ball brings to the subject’s New Urbanist ideas to the forefront. And rightly so – he’s a project manager for Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), the originators of the New Urbanist concept. As such, the text is a mixed bag. It has its share of warmed-over New Urbanist rhetoric, especially in the early chapters, that seems like it’s been covered previously ad infinitum. Where the text becomes more valuable is in the later sections which cover such topics as housing codes to accommodate seniors and the final chapter which features case studies from both rural and urban contexts.