Master plans for inter-generational community living models are changing the shape of the aging experience from the ages of 8 up to 80 years of age and beyond. Dubbed “new urbanism” it is the belief that a living environment with high standards can have a positive effect on the quality of life, local economy, and public health. The goal of new urbanism for older adults is the offering of an active lifestyle enhanced by a vibrant and bustling community composed of varying ages and ethnicities. This can help keep the brains of aging adults more agile as they challenge themselves to socialize with new people of all ages, backgrounds, and world views.
Inter-generational living is similar to multi-generational homes, just on a larger scale. Many of today's older Americans want to maintain a connection to their community at large; offering their life experiences, knowledge, wisdom, and skill sets that can enhance lives for people of all ages. While living in a multi-generational home provides the same opportunity, the scale and needs of the people change when it is opened up to those outside of a nuclear family system. While some aging Americans prefer a retirement community of similarly aged people, many older adults are finding increased vitality and quality of life mixing with children, teens, young adults, and middle-aged people. Many aging adults prefer the stimulation of being associated with a non-homogenous group, and with their life expectancies increasing and overall health levels improving these inter-generational communities are becoming a popular lifestyle solution.
Decades ago, these types of multi-generational homes and communities would have been the norm. The Pew Research Center has reported that in the 1900s, fully 57 percent of Americans 65 and over lived with their children, grandchildren, and other family members. Communities were highly integrated into everyday life. However, the post World War II era ushered in an increase in education and loans to buy homes and start businesses. The opportunities scattered many families across the US in search of building a more prosperous life. By 1990 another Pew Research report found that only 17 percent of those 65 and older lived with their families. Now, nearly in 2020, the downward trend is reversing due to several reasons.
Immigration is one factor that explains the trend reversal. It is very commonplace around the world that multi-generational family systems live together and communities are very integrated. Longer life expectancy and the cost of continuing care retirement communities and long term care are other reasons families seek to live together. A delayed marriage pattern of younger people, as well as "boomerang" youth, are other reasons for the pattern reversal. Many children coming out of college have student loans and often wind up moving back in with parents or grandparents until they can get out of debt.
Inter-generational communities are not complex to build. Thoughtful designs of parks where park benches face each other to encourage conversation, dog walking parks, festivals, live music, art programs and more are just some of the uncomplicated techniques that help break down barriers between different age groups of people and help aging adults stay vital and integrated into life. Older Americans can experience reduced depression and loneliness, better mental stimulation, more daily activities, and can build relationships that will help them learn to rely on others, as others learn to rely on them.
Tasks like grocery shopping can be simplified if an older adult provides a shopping list to a younger community member and watches over their children while groceries can be obtained for both the younger family and the older adult. Oversight by community developers can create programs that encourage this sort of “bartering” of tasks because just plunking people in the same physical space does not necessarily build connections.
Building these inter-personal partnerships in an inter-generational community will help older adults continue to age in place and rely on community rather than a big bank account to pay for much of the help they might need. While many people opt for aging in place at the age of 50, some are interested enough in this movement of new urbanism and its many benefits, committing to the process in their thirties.
Nobody wants to have to leave their lifelong home because of aging. Many seniors are finding every day to be an adventure with never a dull moment living in inter-generational communities. Aging Americans can lead fuller and happier lives by staying invested in the process of being connected to all ages.