Multi-Family Development Suggests Possibilities for Urban Senior Housing

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By Kelly Vencill Sanchez / Published by Dwell
Barbara Bestor's small lot subdivision housing development in Los Angeles may present an appealing solution for the urban-dwelling aging population.

John Dutton, author of the 2001 book New American Urbanism: Re-Forming the Suburban Metropolis, believes that retrofitting suburbs is one of the great issues facing American planners today. While current housing in these "naturally occurring retirement communities" leave much to be desired architecturally, he says, "if you don’t look at the dresses these buildings are wearing and instead look at the fact that they’re dense, that they’re mixed-use and create great streets, and that they offer different housing types—all of that is really radical. Senior housing has to be that radical."

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In development in Los Angeles is architect Barbara Bestor’s Blackbirds community. Scheduled to open in 2015, it consists of 18 stand-alone units in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles designed to accommodate people in all stages of their lives. Bestor will join fellow architect John Dutton onstage to discuss their projects that renew the notion of aging in place. See more of their work here.

Not yet 50, Los Angeles architect Barbara Bestor isn’t in a demographic typically associated with aging, but she’s given serious thought to the future of housing for Gen Xers and Millennials—"generations that don’t identify with getting old," she says. Blackbirds, her first non-single-family project, is a "first step" toward creating senior housing within an urban context. Scheduled to open in 2015, it consists of 18 stand-alone units built around communal and pedestrian-friendly spaces in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. "As an architect, I’m interested in making social hubs and creating communities that people feel connected to tribally."

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In the development, single-family residences, duplexes, and triplexes are centered on a internal street. Parking is located at the rear of the houses, in order to avoid hindering community interaction.

Dutton and Bestor have begun collaborating on models for modest, modern, and affordable housing for seniors—housing that Dutton describes as "much hipper and more creative, connected, and modern" than we’ve come to expect. "Modernism’s historical and social mission is well suited for this," he says.​

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“As an architect, I’m interested in making social hubs and creating communities that people feel connected to tribally," Bestor says.

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Blackbirds, with its community- and pedestrian-friendly design, is a “first step” toward creating senior housing within an urban context.