Saturday, March 26, 2016

Biophilic Advantages to Aging in Place: How to Create Your Own NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community)

I know what's important to me in my daily life: 
  • the company of my dog 
  • enough space for him to play and to be walked where he can interact with friendly neighbors 
  • visual and tactile access to the earth and to plants and native critters like squirrels, geckos, birds and butterflies 
  • a yard with space for small gardens that I can tend and enjoy
  • visual access to other people's lives and dogs as they pass by my window 
  • daily chats with neighbors who enjoy seeing my dog and me walk by 
  • walking access to basic shopping and dining, including the opportunity for casual discussions with the people who work there 
  • going out for a couple of hours each night to enjoy food and live music in the midst of other people
  • a manageably sized house that I can maintain myself, with occasional help from a handyman and lawn service
These days, I think a lot about how to continue living like this as I move towards later phases of life, as I anticipate the possibility of reaching the age of my parents' generation. 

And, while there are lots of well-run, socially engaging, supportive retirement home options out there, along with being extremely expensive, living in one of them would deprive me of most of the things that are important to me in my daily life. 

So, last year I implemented phase one of my own plan to age in place, to create my own NORC (naturally occurring retirement community): 

With the help of a versatile handyman, I created a separate guest suite in my small house. For now, it provides me with needed income to keep up with mortgage payments, as I host visitors to my city for short stays. Longer-term, though, it will allow me to have live-in aides if I reach a point where I can't do all my daily support tasks myself. 

A recent outpatient surgery provided me with the opportunity to try phase two of my NORC plan. Because I'd be returning home right after coming out of general anesthesia, I needed someone to pick me up from the surgery center and drive me the few blocks to my house. I decided to ask a neighbor I knew only from walking my dog past his house. Over the years, we'd become friendly, and it was clear that we shared similar values about everyday life. I decided that this was a good time to suggest an exchange of reliability: I'd be here for him if he ever needed help, and would be grateful if he'd help me now. He said he'd be happy to be my post-surgery ride home. 

Because I didn't have anyone at home who could ensure my safety after I returned post-anesthesia, the surgery center said that I had to hire home aides to stay with me for 24 hours. Here was phase three of my NORC plan: I called a local home aide service and arranged for 3 shifts of CNA companions to stay with me. This reminded me of my great-aunts who had regular aides to help them with household tasks when they were living alone in New York apartments. Now, apparently, it was my turn to add another layer to my own support system.

Because I'd already created my guest suite, I was able to accommodate the aides who stayed with me. It never occurred to me when I finished the suite last year that I'd get a chance to use it for this purpose so soon, but it turned out to be perfect timing, and it worked smoothly.

Now, as the scent of spring flowers starts to float through my neighborhood, I'm grateful to be living in my own little house, with my dog in the garden, sand under my feet in the yard, neighbors nearby, and access to the everyday delights that are important to me. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Elevated Urban Trailways: Getting Away from it All in the Midst of it All

For many years, I lived in the Hudson River towns north of New York City. In addition to enjoying easy access to Manhattan via the scenic Hudson River Line of Metro North Railroad, I loved the fact that I could walk from village to village via a linear park called the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park

This simple dirt footpath lies atop the Old Croton Aqueduct, an 11-foot high, 41-mile-long elevated tunnel that used to carry water to New York City from the Croton River in Westchester County. 

In my towns, it ran parallel to the Hudson River, just east of Broadway, crossing local streets and passing behind backyards. During winter months, when the trees are bare, you can see the river down below, to the west of the Aqueduct trail. In the middle of densely populated hill towns, the Aqueduct is an urban treasure, a quick getaway into nature and a slower pace, the rhythm of your feet and your thoughts. During the leafy spring and summer months, you can enjoy the dappling of light and shade created by the tree canopy along the trail.

In Dallas TX, the Katy Trail is a footpath, inline skating and bicycle path that runs through the Uptown and Oak Lawn sections of the city. It follows the path of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, which was also called the MKT or the Katy. This linear park is wide and paved, lined with trees that arch together overhead. It's elevated over the neighborhood, creating a sense of escape and tranquility. 

One of the most famous elevated urban trail ways in the United States is the High Line in New York City. As a train line that extended from 34th Street to Spring Street, it was originally designed to run though the middle of the streets, rather than over the avenues, in order to carry goods to and from Manhattan's largest industrial district at the time. Now the High Line is a linear urban park 30 feet above the street that features a variety of architect-designed paving, planting, seating and feature designs along its entire length on the West Side of Manhattan, from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street.

In contrast to conventional parks, which typically offer walking trails that circle back on themselves, linear parks give one a sense of forward motion and exploration that extends for miles ahead.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Integrated Retail: Making Downtown a Destination

A number of small communities have discovered the magic of "integrated retail": By intermixing unique local shops with upscale mall stores, a walkable dining district, and weekly farmers market, these towns create downtown environments that become destinations for socializing, shopping and discovering delicious cuisine.

For example, Westfield NJ, a commuter suburb near New York City, concentrates most of its downtown retail onto East Broad Street, Central Avenue, Elm Street, Quimby Street, Prospect Street, and South Avenue. Local specialty shops such as Ahrre's Coffee Roastery, Castle Bootery, The Farmhouse Store, Baron's Drug Store, The Chocolate Bar, and Juxtapose Gallery share the street with national brand stores like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Chico's, Urban Outfitters, Trader Joe's and Williams-Sonoma. 

The dining opportunities in Westfield are legendary, with menus from all over the world. Some of these include 16 Prospect Wine Bar & Bistro (with live music), Akai Japanese Sushi Lounge, Bovella's Pastry Shop, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Cosimo's Restaurant & Pizzeria, Ferraro's Restaurant, Fujiyama Mam, Hunan Wok III, Limani Seafood Grill, Mojave Grille, Mulberry House Restaurant, Old Havana, Panera, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Rockin' Joe Coffeehouse + Bistro, Splash of Thai, The Office Bar & Grill, Turning Point, Tinga, Tutti Baci Cafe, and Vicki's Diner.

Every Saturday from June through October, 8:30AM-1:30PM, the Westfield Farmers Market sets up its vendor booths in the South Avenue parking lot of the Westfield Train Station. The market offers produce, meats, flowers, prepared foods, coffees, pastas, oils and vinegars, yogurt drinks, honey and wines.

Sarasota FL, is moving forward with the next phase of its "Pineapple Square" downtown shopping concept, which integrates name brand retail into the existing local shopping district. Already in place on Lemon Avenue and Main Street are mall stores such as Sur l'Table, Reasons Shoes, Eileen Fisher, J. McLaughlin, Patchington and Brooks Brothers, with more high-end mall stores to come as more infill buildings are completed in the urban core. 

Local shops include Bohemian Bliss, Elietts on Palm, Encore! & More, Evelyn & Arthur, i tesori, Jackie Z Style Co., Juno & Jove, Lotus Boutique, Michaels on Main, PJ's Boutique, as well as bookshops, art galleries, shoe stores, gift shops, toys, home furnishings, jewelry and pet supplies.

The Sarasota Farmers market, which runs year-round on several blocks of Lemon Avenue and State Street, from 7AM - 1PM, is in its 37th year. It's fully booked with over 70 vendors of produce (including a huge selection of organics), flowers and plants, prepared foods, coffees and teas, soaps, baked goods, vegetarian specialties, honey, meats, cheeses, artisan goods and live music. It's always a dog show at the Sarasota Farmers Market, as patrons strut an astonishing array of breeds along the crowded street to "help" with their shopping.

In Aspen CO, high in the Colorado Rockies, it often seems that expensive "trophy stores" for brands such as Gucci, Prada, Burberry, Frette, Loro Piano, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Moncier outnumber the unique local shops, but there are still many specialty stores on the Cooper and Hyman Avenue malls, East Hopkins Avenue, and connecting streets. Pitkin County Dry Goods, Carl's Pharmacy, Aspen Sports, Aspen Luggage, Heidi Hat, Distractions, and many others.

Well-integrated into the downtown core are many restaurants and cafes, offering a multitude of cuisines, including sushi, Italian, Chinese, French, Japanese, Mexican, American, seafood, and wine bars.

The Aspen Saturday Market, which operates from mid-June to mid-October, 8:30AM - 3PM, offers an enormous array of produce, plants, baked goods, prepared foods, a food court, artisans, live music and a fascinating parade of dogs leading their owners through the busy market streets of East Hopkins, between Hunter and Galena Streets, Hunter, and East Hyman Avenue.

Local merchants may grumble about competition from the farmers markets, but the reality is that all these elements combined--destination name-brand retail, unique local shops, concentrated dining districts, and markets--bring a diverse and growing number of patrons to the downtowns of older small communities such as Westfield NJ, Sarasota FL, and Aspen CO.