Aging populations inspire ‘universal design’ housing
This article speaks about the site of our recent ProAging Meeting in Northern Virginia. We recommend that you schedule a visit – it will be open to the public only through March 2007, and then it will be for sale! – ProAging Editorial
Prince William County, Va. doesn’t want to leave the future to chance when it comes to meeting its residents’ lifelong housing needs. Spurred by aging baby boomers, the county is promoting the concept of “universal design” in homebuilding “” homes that can evolve to meet a family’s changing needs over a lifetime.
“A lot of housing that’s out there now is what I describe as ‘Peter Pan housing’ “” designed for people who are never going to grow up and never going to grow old,” said Jon Pynoos, professor, Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California and a universal design advocate.
AARP surveys show that the vast majority of its members want to “age in place” “” either in their current home or community. Without adaptable housing, that prospect becomes less likely, Pynoos said.
“Especially baby boomers “” who have seen their own parents age and tried to provide them support in housing that doesn’t work “” have come to the realization that there’s a better way to do it,” he added.
Counties and cities across the country are embracing universal design “” or UD “” concepts and educating their residents about the benefits. Howard County, Md. has created a zoning category to encourage UD home construction. The state of California has passed a voluntary code that cities can adopt. The city of Irvine, Calif. developed a voluntary UD code education program.
“The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost,” according to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh (Wake County). Universal design benefits people regardless of age, ability or situation.
Pynoos said a UD home can cost zero- to 5-percent more than a comparable house without universal design features: “These things don’t cost very much more if done early on” and are “much more expensive and difficult and cumbersome to do after the fact.”
Prince William’s universal design efforts began with an eye toward the “aging and disability community.” However, universal design isn’t just about ramps and grab bars. Wider doors and hallways can accommodate strollers as easily as wheelchairs; a teen on crutches can appreciate a “zero-step” entryway as much as a senior using a walker.
“While particular groups may especially benefit from features at a particular point in time, there’s nothing about any of it that says ‘Boy, that’s a real turn off,’ said Richard C. Duncan, senior project manager at the UD Center at N.C. State.