(Excerpted from Raines' Aging in Community chapter in Audacious Aging)
I feel blessed to be part of a parallel evolution in the field of aging, a newly emerging phenomenon we in the movement called "Aging In Community" (not to be confused with the important but relatively mundane "Aging In Place" that we build on.) New community-based people-powered institutions and models for cooperation are giving us the opportunity to overcome the multi-billion-dollar aging-industrial complex trying to put us into prefabricated generic slots in nursing homes. We need to help each other to get past the well-intentioned efforts of our own families to "take care of us" in ways that strip us of autonomy.
A new perspective is that we can gain control of our lives, and even elements of choice in our deaths, and earn independence through interdependence, as my wife Betsy Morris, a longtime community researcher, has written. People are dealing with complex systems necessary for their own sense of well-being. Empowerment comes from peoples' discovery that in sharing information and ideas, access to to a greater whole becomes integral to one's personal success. Passionate groups of users -- amateurs and professionals interacting freely in structured settings -- became a community of stakeholders with the power to reshape the systems itself, first through voluntary exchanges among themselves, and then by translating social connections and trust into economic and political clout.
A movement of many pieces
Aging in Community is a ragtag movement of ordinary people banding together and stepping forward to fill in gaps of the patchwork of care with overlapping efforts, regional and national, "multiple centers of initiative," people just like you who are, just in the past decade:
- Building “village model” support structures that can help us stay in our homes, connecting to neighbors rather than isolating ourselves as we age.
- Creating new cohousing neighborhoods and EcoVillages specifically designed to provide homes that we can live out the rest of our lives in, transforming our collective impacts on the earth for the benefit of generations yet to come.
- Forming Elders’ Guilds and studying Sage-ing, collaborative courses, Second Journey workshops and study groups for conscious aging where we together re-imagine old age and embody the wisdom to help heal the future.
- Becoming Earth Elders dedicated to creating a just, sacred, and sustainable future.
A few people are exploring new areas of development in the movement, including:
* Supporting developers creating ElderFire communities, ElderShire neighborhoods, and "GreenHouse" nursing homes
* Sharing strategies to remake our cities and towns into Aging-Friendly Communities that will meet our aging populations’ needs.
* Supporting each other with Senior Networks that keep people connected and engaged across distances through computer communications.
The term "Aging In Community" appears to have been coined early this century by participants in Second Journey's workshops on Spirit, Service, and Community. I credit White House Conference on Aging member Janice Blanchard out of Colorado as the one who has done the most to popularize the term, forging a foothold with talks at American Society on Aging national conferences and throughout the "industry of aging." It's going to take a lot of us working together in this regard to help the movement see that we're all working on the same essential core, despite differences in scope, scale, and methods.
We're still in the early stages of finding each other, and as a self-help citizen-organized movement, we're in the de-commodifying business, so you can't (yet) just look up your local Aging In Community center and say "I'd like one of those villages by next week in green, please." A few national organizations support matchmaking and group development for some types of community efforts, but at the moment, if you want one of these groups to meet your needs, the odds are that you'll have to step up and make it happen. Fortunately, there's a lot of help available.
Curious? Join me, if you will, on a brief journey through some of these innovative efforts and what makes them so essential to our little revolution in aging.
(Excerpted from Raines' forthcoming chapter in Audacious Aging)
In Denmark in the early 1970s, families looking for deeper connections with neighbors and support for raising kids together pioneered a new form of neighborhood, one combining private homes with a large shared area. A common house included shared kitchen and dining area that they could use together a few times a week, while they still had the independence of their own kitchens in their own homes. Cars were pushed to the edge, with design for walkability. Folks could share in childcare, but weren’t forced to do everything together. This “yes, and...” principle of adding choices turned out to provide a high quality of life without adding much cost to basic homeownership. People live in smaller, greener homes in a hundred neighborhoods around the country, living richer lives for less.
We call this cohousing. In more than 100 neighborhoods across the country, it offers condominiums with community, developed by the residents. "Intentional Neighborhoods" that start green and get greener. Where you know your neighbors, and build the shared experience that makes it easy to trust and share. In projects that cities will approve and banks will finance (even when the economy is stalled everywhere else) because the future residents are part of the process, investing and sharing an interest in the success of the project; they've got "skin in the game."
It turned out that these same cohousing neighborhood design principles had a lot to offer aging Boomers, including:
- Shared guest rooms to accommodate visiting family members or shared long-term care providers, living independently rather than in your own house so you don’t get into that whole servant/master dynamic.
- Shared meals to keep people talking to one another and aware of significant events in each others’ lives
- Community connections that keep people active, because they know they’ll hear from their nice but nosy neighbor if they don’t get dressed and get the paper by noon.
Senior Cohousing, recently imported to the U.S. by Charles Durrett (decades after he brought over the original intergenerational form with his architect/author wife, Kathryn McCamant), is just getting off the ground here, with a handful of communities established in California, Virginia, and Colorado, and a couple dozen more in the development process. The Cohousing Association of the United States (Coho/US) is helping these bold pioneers challenging bureaucrats, land-use regulations, and their own fears that can keep them from realizing their visions.
Part of what is driving this movement, according to Durrett, is the tendency of Boomers to reinvent society's institutions as they engage them. “What is more audacious than 25 seniors deciding that they should build their own neighborhood?,” Durrett asks. “What is more audacious than 25 seniors deciding, ‘hell, they don’t know how to do it, we’re gonna figure out out how to do it.’ All these seniors should stay in their houses, not just be told to be happy in assisted care. This generation understands that the Stepford country is not where it’s at.”
Definition of an Elder
An Elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential and whose life continues to have within it, promise for, and connection to the future.
An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy and pleasure, and her or his birthright to these remains intact.
Moreover, an elder is a person who deserves respect and honor and whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.
Our Vision is a world in which powerful and conscious elders join together in common purpose to bring healing, joy and connection to our lives, our families, our communities and our world.
Our Mission is to create the communities where we re-imagine our old age, look after one another and embody the wisdom that will enable us to help heal the future.
Regular meetings are taking place twice a month in Berkeley, California
A project of the Live Oak Institute, Berkeley, CA
These are member-based neighborhood networks that help people stay in their homes as they age, by making where they live into aging-friendly communities, overlaying services and community.
In the "Beacon Hill Village Model," people (typically 50+) in a particular area band together to form a nonprofit organization providing "concierge services," one-stop shopping for transportation, home-care, house maintenance, medical, and care-management services.
Typical membership fees are $500 to $1000 per person or household per year, with mature villages offering reduced-fee subsidized memberships for people who can't afford the full fees.
Memberships include basic transportation for shopping and excursions, and regular social events, but additional trips and other services are usually offered on a fee-for-service basis, with membership discounts. They publish newsletters, host parties, and help people get to know each other better and form "affinity groups" with shared interests.