To appeal to the next generation of Boomers, “senior centers” must adapt and access innovative design concepts to transform into active-aging centers.
The following is the second installation of an article Craig Bouck recently authored for The Journal on Active Aging. We will release the full contents of the article over the next several months in a series of blog posts.
Where is the second place? The home is the “first place,” and for many people who are retired, “second places” are informal meeting places for social interaction that become anchors of their community life. Second places can be barber shops, hair salons, bars, restaurants, libraries, parks and—hopefully—adult centers. For the next-generation active-aging center to become truly relevant, it should strive to become a second place—a place for engaging social activity.
How can centers achieve this goal? Start with the overall look and feel of the facility, which should create a warm, welcoming and comfortable atmosphere—a place you want to be. A visitor’s first impression should include a friendly face, and the center must offer a variety of spaces both indoors and out that invite informal gathering and interaction. These inviting spaces could be living rooms, sunrooms, libraries, porches, patios and garden spaces. A center might consider adding small social areas outside of fitness rooms—classrooms and locker rooms where people can meet before and after activities.
Funding sources shift: Traditionally, senior centers have been supported primarily by tax dollars. At the same time, many older adults, especially those on fixed incomes, traditionally resist tax increases. Demographics suggest that as we move into an unprecedented era with the largest population of aging adults in history seeking services, we will also have fewer Boomers in the workforce to provide the necessary tax income. The result is likely to be less emphasis on income tax revenue and a greater emphasis on property and sales taxes to support active-aging centers.
The net effect of funding pressures and extraordinary demand may be a fundamental shift to a pay-for-service model in lieu of free (or heavily discounted) services to cover operational expenses. In this model, the cost of an activity will increase with an increase in personal benefit. In other words, a space or activity that has equal benefit to all, like a lounge area, is a community benefit, and the cost would be shared by the entire community as a subsidy. An activity with a personal benefit, like a yoga class, is an individualized benefit, and the cost would be borne solely by the participants.
New priorities – times and activities: It used to be that centers could schedule activities geared toward older adults during the center’s “off” or “slow” hours. Times have changed, and many older adults today are busy working or volunteering during the day and need facilities to be open longer hours in the evenings and weekends. In addition, shifts in preferences mean Boomers are no longer filling existing passive recreation spaces, so these need to be converted to active recreation areas to meet the growing demand for those types of activities. Older adults have many options for their time, and they are much less dependent on the senior center for offers of trips, performances and group activities.
Ages spread across generations: While often lumped into a single category called “seniors,” the active aging service provider will have a customer base ranging in age from 50 to more than 90 years old. Satisfying a group with an age spread this wide requires a greater segregation of activities, which means more offerings are needed. Limited resources, however often mean these additional activities must be offered without additional funding, staff or space. Unfortunately, this reality means people at both ends of the age spectrum tend to get squeezed out and have fewer appropriate activities. Serving the most may necessitate not serving everyone.
Stand-alone vs. integrated facilities: Should active aging adult centers be built as stand-alone facilities or be integrated into multi-generational recreation centers? An intergenerational center provides spaces for both youth and older adults, with a priority system for utilizing the space. No one approach will work for all communities, but financial pressures are driving communities toward a potentially more cost effective integrated approach. Significant savings can be achieved when centers share expenses for land, site development, and utility services. Additionally, ongoing operational costs can be reduced by sharing utilities, staffing, security, maintenance and advertising. Sharing space, however, can also have disadvantages. If youth programs generate more revenue, then older adult programs may lose out and have less access to spaces and equipment.
Posted by Craig Bouck, AIA, LEED® AP on October 16, 2013 at 04:10pmcomments powered by Disqus