Designing for Quality of Life

Senior aging in community


No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

~John Donne

Designing for an Aging Population

Architect Media Ling describes the humane quality of life factor and sustainability when designing for an aging population:

No Matter how well an individual home may accommodate and adapt to the changing physical needs of a home owner, if it does not encourage social interaction, or a sense of ‘belonging’ to a supportive community—whether intentional or serendipitous, aging in place is un-likely to be an option.

One must always consider the context of a home within the greater environments of a neighborhood or community.

Are homes sited in such a way that people are encouraged to interact and know their neighbors? Further, how does location of a home or development relate to the greater community and access to transit options, shopping, healthcare, entertainment, passive/active recreations, such that it encourages a healthy lifestyle (social determinants of health)? Moreover, how does the home and the neighborhood relate to the environment? Does it make sense in terms of land use, water and air quality objectives of sustainability (environmental determinants of health)?

I have strong reservations about the concept of “aging in place” as a sustainable model for a humane quality of life. From the perspective of a site architect, I consistently find myself reminding my professional colleagues to step back and see the forest for the ‘kitchen cabinet’ selection—and ask that we consider the quality of life as THE guiding principle of how we design, how we use the land, how we build. Rather than designing–building for aging in place, please consider designing—building for “Living in Community.”

Quality of Life Design

This kind of big Picture design thinking takes into consideration the social/environmental determinants of health and aging, then creates communities which optimize quality of life for all ages now and into the future.

We can do this…


The 20 Minute Neighborhood (Can you get what you need in a 20-minute walk) is one in which neighbors can walk or bike to places and services people visit on a daily basis: transit, shopping, quality food, school, parks, and entertainment. This has been also called “Mixed-Use” due to the many diverse activities like: shopping and working–in close proximity to others and services. Contrast that with the conventional Idea of the American cityscape, where large residential communities or suburbs are connected via highway systems leading to large shopping centers miles from sprawling large office parks.

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