Community building and central quad area of a proposed GHC. Rendering by Stephanie Bower. Design by Mithun Architects and JSR Associates.
In a GHC, special attention must be paid to the scale and physical design of the neighborhood so that relationships are easy to form and maintain. These relationships, across and within generations, and among a diverse population, are the principle means through which the community does its work.
Physical dimensions support social dimensions
The purposeful integration of the physical dimensions of a GHC provides the context for the formation and development of the social dimensions of a caring community, allowing for the accommodation of diversity, adaptation, and crisis intervention. Examples of GHC design principles that support these social dimensions include:
- all buildings are geographically contiguous
- housing for people of all ages, vulnerabilities, and life experiences are intermixed
- an intergenerational community center is at the geographic “heart” of the neighborhood
- no common space is designated for the exclusive use of one group ( e.g. no senior center)
- neighborhoods should be designed for no more than 150 residents
Diversity & Adaptation
Not only are common areas needed where residents may convene, but the flow of foot, car, and bicycle traffic through the neighborhood needs to increase the odds of residents encountering one another. The informal relationships that take root in this way constitute the social core of the community. Likewise more formal engagement through, for example, after school activities or neighborhood celebrations and potlucks, require thoughtful design of indoor and outdoor gathering space – design that accommodates residents of all ages from toddlers to frail octogenarians, and who represent diversity of class and ethnicity.
In addition, space must be able to accommodate the changing needs of the people who live in a GHC. Home interiors and the physical layout of the community take into account the space needs of a growing family, the reduced mobility that often comes with age and older adults’ desire to age-in-community, and young children’s need for play areas as well as space for “hanging out” when they are older.
Following basic physical design principles to support neighborliness and engagement among all GHC residents also facilitates neighbors first in a time of crisis. As one GHC parent recently said: “You know if there’s a problem or a crisis or something you can run right next door. You’ve got somebody.”
Accommodating diversity, adaptation, and crisis intervention is a tall order. Rarely are housing developments designed specifically to address these challenges by facilitating neighboring and engagement.