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Students, Seniors and Social Biodiversity
Julia Levitt, 5 Dec 08
Social hour at Austin Manor
Photo credit: Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer
I've recently come across an innovative solution for meeting several societal needs at once: mixed-age communities.

Among the best examples is Austin Manor, a dorm at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. For 20 years, the building has served as the university's only multi-generational housing facility, where students, retirees, professors and other tenants live side-by-side in apartments, and share common space.

From an article in The Plain Dealer:

Today, 81 people, 13 cats and one dog live in 60 apartments on four floors. As you walk along the carpeted hallways, a door with a memo board indicates a student room, with laptops, loft beds and bicycles inside. A door with a flowered wreath indicates a retiree apartment, with treasured antiques and furniture...
[Pat] Powers and other seniors can eat in the faculty dining room, use the university library, audit classes and attend plays and athletic events. They also organize events at Austin, including movie nights. They plant flower, herb and vegetable gardens, which are admired from rocking chairs on the expansive front porch.
The façade of the new Swampscott H. S.
Photo credit: Ian Hurley, The Swampscott Reporter
Another terrific example is the renovated Swampscott High School, which underwent a 2-year renovation process to open with upgraded facilities and a 7,000-square foot Senior Center. According to this story from the Swampscott Reporter
The senior center is directly under the field house and has a spacious sitting areas, meeting rooms, a big new kitchen and offices. It also has a separate entrance but the main door is also connected, through a covered walkway, to a door leading to the “public areas” of the high school.
“Other towns are now coming here to see how we’ve integrated various generations in this building,” says [Kevin] Breen. “I think it’s going to be good.”

Although the facilities for seniors and students are mostly separate from one another, a release from the Massachusetts Municipal Association "have access to other school facilities or equipment, including the gym, weight room, a pottery kiln, and computers, though not at the same time as students."

“One of the overarching purposes of the [high school] project was to make it a civic facility,” says Joe Markarian, chair of Swampscott’s School Building Authority. Markarian, noting that many seniors on fixed-incomes were opposed to the building of the new school, adds, “This way they’re getting a return on their investment.”

Social solutions like these combine practical community objectives like saving money and resources with less tangible but equally important goals: keeping aging residents engaged and involved, enriching the experience of the younger generation, and building connections between people that allow everyone to see the whole picture. Uniting people so that they understand that what benefits the neighbors can also enhance their own lives brings us that much closer to the development of healthier and more sustainable towns and cities.

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