I have been fortunate to attend multiple symposiums and conferences recently where the discussions focus on the integration of senior living communities into the greater community.

Regardless of whether this is by chance or my increasing interest in the subject that it resurfaces, makes me believe it’s especially relevant now.  I am impressed by the creative approaches to break down the isolation of senior living communities.

This is not trend.  It is an acknowledgment for the need for inclusion.  It’s an approach that’ll provide choices to residents and (hopefully) satisfy Baby Boomers.

For too long, we’ve designed senior living communities outside the natural happenings of the communities in which they physically reside.  We emulate a “Main Street,” within campuses — some more successfully than others.

It’s time to stop emulating and start providing the real thing.

Wellesley Design Consultants is grateful to be working on the repositioning of True North on the North Hill campus in Needham, Mass.  We provided interior design of the original Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), which was built 30 years ago. It has been rewarding to apply the lessons we learned since then to this project.

The campus is located atop its own hill and actively invites the public in.  An in-house resident art curator rotates fine art each quarter.  The gallery walls are painted with colors that support each exhibit’s aesthetic. It is near the new front entrance, which now opens up to a town green that signals a warm welcome.

The adjacent café on the other side of the reception space provides fresh bistro options. Affordable prices are offered on made-to-order food using daily fresh baked breads and produce from the local farm next door.  This example of “inviting the public in” was worth coverage by Boston Chronicle. [http://www.wcvb.com/chronicle/rubis-and-north-hill/37434806] The piece on True North starts at 3:04 of the hidden finds segment.

For more about this community, visit the True North website. [http://www.northhill.org]

Cordia at Grand Traverse in Traverse City, Mich. is another example of inserting senior living into a new micro community.  The campus is on the site of an old insane asylum, a multi-story, yellow brick, stone foundation building.

Standard market rate units make up majority of apartments in the rambling plan.  Outbuildings now house a bakery, a winery, and a brew house.  The underground “Mercado” houses shops, professional services, and eating venues.  All these are run by independent providers.  Farmers’ markets and festivals held on the property attract people from the surrounding community.

For more about this community, visit the Cordia website. [http://www.cordiatc.com/senior-living-grand-traverse-village-commons.htm]

I was fortunate to be a part of a discussion last fall that focused on how we move from the standard idea of services be provided to a model where residents drive services and even self-organize.  This provides a sense of ownership and pride in their community, and of course “customization.”

Customization is the buzzword in discussions about senior living for Baby Boomers. Better yet was a spin-off of this discussion that suggested providing a front and back door to the common spaces.  The public uses these spaces, as well as the residents.  They become the storefront of the community.

A cafe, yoga/fitness studio, physical/occupational therapy, spa, salon, convenience mart, or bistro would all work in this model.  These spaces could be rented to independent providers.  Spaces that were once burdens on the community become self-sustaining and provide revenue and a venue for interaction with the existing community.

These are just a few examples we’re seeing in the market that integrate senior living into the community at large.  There are other models being tested, from which we can learn.

I look forward to continuing the discussions and seeing more widespread adoption of these ideas.

Faith Marabella is President and CEO of Wellesley Design Consultants [http://wdcinteriors.com] in Methuen, Mass.