When you drive up to this campus, you’ll see a three-story gym and wellness center that anyone can join, and what could be a low-rise condo building, he explains. In fact, part of the housing—but not all—is dedicated to senior living. “I’m 40 and it’s a very attractive membership gym,” says Crisp, who is also co-host of Bridge The Gap, a podcast about the industry. “I would join and become a member now. But it also has programs and services designed for those who are aging. It has a section designed specifically with equipment that’s aging friendly, and there are therapy services, just like there would be personal training services.”

Serving the urban and the globally minded

For moneyed, restaurant-going, city-dwelling seniors, the retirement high-rises have arrived, true hybrids of the five-star hotel and residential model. Two ultra-luxury buildings are on the verge of opening in Manhattan, Inspir Carnegie Hill, named for its upscale neighborhood on the Upper East Side, and Sunrise at East 56th in Midtown East. Joann Ryan, general manager of the midtown project, says the two buildings are not actually competing with each other. As New Yorkers are aware, moving a few blocks is akin to switching coasts—and these properties intend to serve the locals.

The Sunrise at East 56th in Manhattan.
The Sunrise at East 56th in Manhattan.

Sunrise at East 56th will charge $13,000 to $33,500 per month for rent and care; seven floors will be dedicated to assisted living and seven to memory care. Interestingly, it too will make Philips location-tracking bracelets available to residents. But, says Ryan, the bracelet will be given to all, not only those with dementia, to make it easier for staff or family to find a loved one in any part of the building.

The Embassies of Good Living, a Zurich-based startup, is targeting a similarly urbane customer with its membership-style, co-retiring concept. The goal, founder and CEO Jan Garde tells Quartz, is to open locations in Europe’s cultural capitals, but also in New York, San Francisco, or Tokyo. There would be two ways for people to join, either as members of any age, or as live-in “ambassadors” (residents), age 60 and older. As an “ambassador of good living,” one could live in Paris or Barcelona, but take up temporary lodging in any of the global outposts, knowing their needs of all kinds would be met.

The Embassies of Good Living website talks about co-retiring and on-demand services. Not “care.”
The Embassies of Good Living website talks about co-retiring and on-demand services. Not “care.”

The typical Embassies resident, Garde imagines, “doesn’t mind having houses with a little bit of extras in service offerings,” but “what they’re really seeking is intergenerational exchange.”

“I think that just because your passport states that you’re, I don’t know, mid-70s, it’s unlikely you’re going to change your habits and craving for great food, great taste, great experiences,” says Garde.

The Embassies is scouting now for buildings that can accommodate its contemporary, globalist aesthetic, particularly former banks or department stores. (Another trend: Senior housing is reviving languishing real estate, like shopping malls in the US.) The first Embassies project will open in Zurich in 2021.

Thinking small

One of the eldercare thinkers who inspired Elroy Jespersen’s dementia village is Bill Thomas, a gerontologist best known for launching the Eden Alternative and The Green House movement, both aimed at transforming nursing home care, physically and in spirit.

Now, Thomas is behind another potentially revolutionary idea, the Magic project, starring the Minka house.

Minkas are small, traditional Japanese houses that emerged as common homes for the working class of the Edo period. Thomas’s Minka houses resemble these minimalist structures, but follow the principles of universal design, making them ideal apartments for anyone of any age and ability. They’re also cheap to build, at about $60,000, and can be 3D-printed on site. (Ikea has embarked a similar venture in Sweden.)

Across the US, a few new senior communities of Minka houses are in development. Those who will inhabit them will no doubt savor the privacy and sense of control over their own home and the security and connectedness that comes from living within a larger group.

Thomas’s Green House movement also emphasizes small households, but communal ones, along with a rethink of the predominant mindset and org charts in elder care, and it’s both of these traits that informed Jespersen’s mission.

The Village Langley, designed by local architect Eitaro Hirota, is actually a cluster of brightly colored cottages made for households of 10 to 12 people. (The Village can accommodate up to 76 residents.) The cottages are connected by a series of pathways that cross and wrap around a small plaza, circle the property, and lead to a spacious community center. There’s a cafe inside, but the tables and chairs can be swept off to the side for yoga classes or guest musicians. Around the building’s edges, they’ve added a small “general store”, a tiny crafts and arts studio, and a hair salon. The overall impression is that of a West Coast retreat center; you wouldn’t mistake it for an entire village, but it doesn’t feel like a stage set either.

The Village Langley community center.
The Village Langley community center.

Every household has a name, in this case taken from the trees of British Columbia, like Cedar, Cypress, Holly, and Arbutus. They are multihued in pale but distinctly cheerful colors, because saying to someone, “Your home is the blue house,” if they’re lost, is easier than saying, “you are in the second house on the left,” and expecting them to remember that, Jespersen explains.

The airy homes are equipped with features to make daily living easier for a person with dementia; in each personal bedroom, the toilets in the ensuite baths have red seats so that they’re easily seen and recognized, and in a custom-built wardrobe, an ingenious rack system allows staff to line up a resident’s outfit, with garments arranged in the order you should put them on.

But the real heart of the household is the kitchen, where Jespersen initially wanted his staff to be able to cook full meals in each house, with the residents’ help, just as would be done in any home. Nope, said the provincial regulators, that was too dangerous. So instead, the meals are started in a commercial kitchen near the community-center building and then delivered to each cottage where they’re finished off in super-safe high-tech cookers. It’s one of a few compromises that Jespersen had to live with.

Pushing against the limits

Though he has otherwise retired from day-to-day operations, Jespersen is president of the Friends of the Village Society, through which he’ll network with Langley locals who want to be a part of village recreation, therapy, or events. He sees the coffee shop in the community center blossoming into a place where someone might stop for a beer on the way home from work, he tells me. He’s even hoping that the site will have a few surprise wildlife visitors, as anyone who lives in Langley might.

The day I visit, there is not much happening in the way of village life, but the suites are still only half-occupied. I was also there in the late morning, so while there were a few residents milling about, Jespersen explains that there would be more in the afternoon, closer to dinner time; one of the symptoms of sundowning (the late-day confusion that can afflict dementia sufferers) is to need to walk, or “ambulate” in clinical terms, sometimes for hours. In a regular memory-care unit, residents circle the hallways making loops and figure eights. Here, people are free to wander more widely, in a quiet, natural setting that must be immeasurably more soothing.

Driving away, I try to imagine what it would feel like if I had just said goodbye to my parents there (both of them have dementia). I immediately feel a sense of resentment toward the village’s admittedly attractive cedar perimeter.

Jespersen, actually, is sympathetic to this view.

“This is one of the criticisms we get about the village and I agree with it,” he told. “You shouldn’t have to isolate and create segregated villages for people with diseases. They should be able to live in the community,” he says.  But today, “the community isn’t ready to support them.”

“People are working to make communities more ready, and hopefully someday soon they will be,” he adds, referring to a movement to build dementia-friendly cities in Europe and elsewhere. “Then you won’t need to have village like this, or it could be part of a bigger community,” he notes, “without the eight-foot perimeter fence.”

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