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Chester County Press

Editorial: The broad vision of designing need

04/07/2015 12:53PM ● By Richard Gaw
There is a demographic in the United States, one born to a post-War America and raised, predominantly, as part of a mass migration that took families from cities and towns to an invented concept known as Suburbia. There, they were raised in relative comfort and dedicated to the proposition that they were destined – almost pre-ordained – to live lives more fulfilling than those of their parents. They are the recipients of what happens when there is more than enough food, more than enough education, more than enough of benefits – more than enough of everything.

They've succeeded mightily, shaping and molding their lives their careers and their aspirations as if it all has the elasticity of putty, all in an effort to maximize both opportunity and happiness.

Almost in defiance of their parents – who took a job and stayed there for life – they have sprinted through their professional lives on a roller coaster ride of transition, climbing ladders and clinging to the belief that their existence on this planet is one large adventure. Born between 1946 and 1964, they are now between 50 and 65, and show no signs of slowing down. They still climb mountains. They still descend canyons. They still run marathons. They still leap from airplanes tethered to parachutes. They still live their lives as free as birds.

So go ahead; try to tell them that the only housing option they have as they get older is to live in a retirement community.

Southern Chester County is fortunate to have several outstanding retirement and senior living facilities that are owned and operated by those who provide our senior population with a continuum of care. Similarly, innovative communities like The Luther House in Jennersville have opened up doors for those who require low-cost retirement housing.

However, a likely scenario of transition for those mostly in the middle- and upper-middle income bracket does not include such facilities on its life's sketch pad. The idea of downsizing to what amounts to a well-appointed, 1,500-square foot box holds little appeal, and neither does remaining in the hollow shrill of a now empty-nester home. Although many have invested wisely through their working years, their retirement funds are not a bottomless well, so the concept of paying a huge mortgage for a new living arrangement presents a frightening scenario.

Clearly, we as a nation are nearing a crisis state of need, design and execution.

Locally, there are signs that this crisis may be averted.

Now through April 25 at the Oxford Arts Alliance, a new exhibit that features the work of local architects provides examples of optimal living designs. Curated by Ed Rahme of THINK Architecture and featuring the work of Rahme, Scott Edmonston, Dennis Melton, Hilary Mockewich, Townsend Moore, Mark Myers, Renee Richardson and Wayne Simpson, the exhibit provides -- in part -- a visual accompaniment to the answers that many nearing retirement age seek to find in their next living arrangement. Among them, Kennett Square architect Melton has developed ideas based on fulfilling a need that many Baby Boomers express, which is to be closely tied with a small town, which create opportunities for connectivity.

The features of Melton's designs include multi-landing stairs, wider doors with lever hardware, flush entryways, and dumbwaiters/elevators that can make a home more livable. It's part of an initiative Melton calls "Intergenerational Design for Comfortable Living," that helps people of all ages link their home environment to the town where they live, and not just to people their own age, but to a younger population.

It's a concept that needs to be heard, talked about and implemented, because right now, we have an entire demographic of Americans betwen the ages of 50 and 65 who are, in the vernacular of home design based on want and need, on the verge of being homeless.

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