A Great Aging in Place, Urban Choice: Washington Village

In response to recent “aging in place” discussions on cohousing-l, I offered some thoughts on how Washington Village, a cohousing community in the heart of Boulder, Colorado, is well-suited to aging in place.

From what I can tell, most cohousers don't seem to look for cohousing in an urban environment. That may be less a lack of interest, and more a shortage of communities in urban environments. But for aging in place, urban communities have a number of advantages. The closeness of everything is something you don't get in suburban or rural areas. There comes a time when you probably shouldn't drive, but you can always take a bus or walk. Walkability was a big requirement when my husband and I considered where we wanted to live for the rest of our lives. Walking is now part of our daily lives. The "10,000 steps" everyone tries to get on a pedometer just happens, and that contributes to living long and, more importantly, living well. Mobility plays a huge factor in aging (or not aging).

Our Community’s Healthcare Agreement requires that all residents be responsible for their own healthcare. That doesn’t mean our community members won't help each other out when support is needed; we’ve already been doing that. It's just that members should not expect the community to provide regular assisted living services. We also don't have anything like adult day care or elder care service professionals living on site. However, there are enough of us concerned with elder care and aging-in-place that I won’t be surprised if some of us collaborate on such things when the time comes and we have space to work with. Also, the City has a large number of service organizations helping seniors age in place. Sometimes, it is a matter of having folks around you with similar concerns and sharing information about solutions they’ve found.

Boulder is an ideal place to grow old - mostly because the residents are very successful at remaining active well into their 80's and often 90's. (I'm 58 and have several 75 yr old friends running circles around me on day hikes up to 12,000 ft. elevations!) Boulder has all the advantages of living in a city (easy access to everything) without feeling like a city - mostly because the height limit for new buildings is 55 ft (~3 stories). Cities offer a wide variety of regular activities within easy reach. It’s easy to find fun things that make you want to get out of the house and, in cohousing, there’s usually someone who wants to get out and do those things with you. For me, my biggest challenge is deciding which of the many options at hand to take advantage of on a given day or night. Quality of life here is unbelievable. (I say that as someone who moved from Massachusetts, and previously lived in California, which are both pretty good places to live.)

All of our common space and most of our units are accessible. Accessing your own home is not the only factor to consider when you think about aging in place in cohousing. I like knowing that, if I am ever less able, I would be able to visit (or assist) my friends in their homes as easily as they can visit (or assist) me in mine.

Washington Village has 14, almost 16, of 36 units occupied, half our common space done, and several other members on board and ready to move in as soon as their units are done. The project is being developed by Jim Leach who, as many of you know, has been at the forefront of the cohousing movement in this country.

Additionally, Washington Village has 6 flats available on the 2nd floor of a 3-story building with an elevator, secure underground parking, and good sound-proofing. We are looking forward to breaking ground for construction of that building in November or December, and then an estimated 18 months of construction. Once that building is done, our community will be complete.

The down side is our price point, which is a function of Boulder's rather pricey housing market. In real estate, location is key... and we definitely have the location. On the up side, our community shares ~7500 SF of common space to expand our living area, including an art room, wood shop, library, space for exercise, 2 guest rooms (one as a family suite), and a variety great sitting and gathering spaces, and gorgeous grounds for a community garden.

What our urban location gets us is the benefit of living within 2 blocks of a neighborhood grocery store, cleaners, shopping, dining, a pharmacy, banks, a lot of medical offices, and a recreation center, and a 15 minute walk from. We have great public transportation right out the front door of the common house. The University of Colorado in Boulder (a short bus ride up the hill) offers free classes to anyone age 55 and older, as well as some outstanding theater, music, and dance performances, and the annual Conference on World Affairs, which is free. Boulder weather is nicer than you might expect of a mountain state. (The town used to be a destination for TB patients because of the climate.)

We are an intergenerational community. We're currently about 45% not-yet-retired, with members ranging in age from 30's to some in their mid to late 70's... not counting kids. We take heart in having four rather vertical town homes – and two other units accessible only by stairs – which pretty much guarantee that we’ll always have a good number of younger folks living here.

Our community website is private, but we have a public website for more information: http://www.washington-village.com/

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