Army of Nurturers: Creating Elder-Friendly Cities

Tree city, nuclear-free-zone city, why not "elder-friendly city"? Courtesy Sarah Kuehl of Peter Walker & Partners.

A couple of weeks ago, AIA San Francisco wound up its annual “Architecture and the City” festival with a nice jolt of inspiration. In an event at SPUR, organized in conjunction with GOOD Magazine, designers presented solutions to real-world problems. All of the conundrums were interesting and meaty: The California Public Utilities Commission, for example, wants more people to install solar hot water (Civil Twilight’s proposed marketing campaign included bright-yellow outdoor showers for surfers), and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority wants to get more people to take public transportation in bus-phobic Silicon Valley (Brute Labs suggested a new service based on the corporate shuttle model).  But the most poignant of all the problems was posed by retirement-home developer AgeSong: “To create a forgetfulness-friendly city and environment where many seniors in the early and more moderate stages of forgetfulness can live safely and happily.”

AgeSong was “matched” with a landscape designer, Sarah Kuehl, of renowned firm Peter Walker & Partners.  It proved to be an inspired fit; landscape designers, by dint of their work, are necessarily concerned with how their designs mature and age over time. Kuehl addressed the challenge by seeing it as an opportunity to fix multiple issues at once: 1.) that as a society, we don’t value the aging process (of people, of things, or of plants), 2.) that our elderly are suffering from isolation because traveling by public transportation or by foot can be difficult, and 3.) that a lot of public landscapes are suffering because they don’t get regular maintenance.

So in addition to improving pedestrian connections to the surrounding neighborhood, shops, and services for AgeSong’s retirement properties, Kuehl also proposed something more overarching. She envisions an elite force of “nurturers” that would be highly visible in the community: akin and complementary to the police force, but dedicated to caring rather than protecting and defending. They would be trained in helping the elderly and serving as crossing guards, but also in landscape maintenance.

For this cadre of caretakers, she came up with this logo of an old tree that is being propped up and nurtured rather than chopped down (based on an actual tree in Japan).

A logo for an elite squad. Courtesy Sarah Kuehl of Peter Walker & Partners.

According to the US Census Bureau, 1 in 5 of us will be older than 65 in 2030. We may want to make more investments in making the public sphere more elder-friendly–not just in terms of physical accessibility, but in terms of social infrastructure.

Taking care of the elderly among us. Courtesy Sarah Kuehl of Peter Walker & Partners.

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