Housing Solutions for 21st Century Needs: Connectedness

By Alexa Fleet. MPH Candidate 2021. Sociomedical Sciences. Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

How many people from a different generation did you interact with today? The past week? How about in the last month? The answer might surprise you, and you’re not alone. The United States is severely age-segregated, yet it flies below the radar, even as our aging population grows larger than before, every single day. The only lasting age-integrated institutions in our country are religion and family, a predicament that has social consequences for all. Family structures are changing from wide, with many children and shorter lives, to vertical, with fewer siblings and more generations alive simultaneously. Of course, this emerging family structure shift will change the ways we live and how we choose to interact and care for each other. We must make sure older adults are not neglected but included in the fabric of society. When we cease to reach out our hands to other generations, we all lose.

How did we get here? When designing community infrastructure in the 20th century, autonomy was the value driving planning. Most Americans’ goal was independence. While we continue to clutch our freedom tightly, we recognize now that urban design and housing options fail us if they stop there. The needs for the 21st century are different; a loneliness epidemic soars, deep age segregation remains largely invisible, and families are dispersed across the country and globe. Throughout recent decades, families have spread further for work and education opportunities more than ever. This trend helps individuals in many ways, but not without consequences on community and family networks. Urban planning-wise, across the country retirement centers and nursing homes were often designed away from walkable city centers, cutting off residents from daily community engagement. Today, older adults voice a desire to ‘Age in Place,’ and community architects have to creatively plan how to support our growing aging population. To adapt to our changing needs now, connectedness must be a part of the equation.

About the Author:

Alexa is an MPH Candidate in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. As an active member at the Butler Columbia Aging Center, her research focuses on health across the lifespan. Specifically, she studies how work and care are determinants of health and intergenerational transfers. A Barnard College graduate, Alexa has worked and studied in New York City for 8 years. Most recently she presented research for an ageism in media project at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam DocLab. Her career in the longevity economy is just beginning but she intends to harness her skills and education to break down structural barriers that prohibit successful aging. She is native to Fort Worth, Texas and hopes to return to the friendship state one day to work in social policy that supports and empowers women and older adults in the workforce.

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