Along the journey of creating, launching and now rapidly growing The Green House® Project there have been many important milestones. Building the first Green Houses in Tupelo, Miss. Getting the strong backing of RWJF . And most recently celebrating the opening of the 100th Green House home in West Orange, N.J., which garnered national attention through the The New York Times.
But perhaps the most exciting milestone for me personally is happening in Rochester, N.Y., where St. John’s Home is opening the doors to the first Green Houses to be built in the community, indistinguishable from neighboring houses. If you missed it, the Green House Project Blog posted some great local news coverage of the opening.
Why is this important? One of the core concepts of the Green House model is the creation of “intentional communities.” Intentional communities can take many forms — communes, abbeys, even fraternities. But when developing the Green House model I envisioned a future where people would come together — elders, providers and family — to create an intentional community that would support the growth and development of elderhood without removing elders from their communities. I called it the Green House.
Last week I was asked to contribute a few words to a journal article on St. John’s Green House Project. Here’s a preview of what I had to say about intentional communities.
Everywhere you look people are imagining a new kind of old age for themselves, particularly in regards to long-term care. As soon as they learn what I do they exclaim, “I’m never going to a nursing home. My friends and I will get a house and live together and we will all take care of each other.”
The growing need and desire to come together with others who are approaching elderhood provides a unique opportunity to create intentional communities.
Baby boomers are the ideal generation to propel this movement. With a higher level of education than any previous generation, a higher level of wealth, and the well-established habit of re-inventing social norms, baby boomers are poised to embrace the concepts of intentional communities and approach old age as a development stage instead of as a decline.
The key to building successful intentional communities is to provide a sanctuary where elderhood as a developmental stage can develop properly. The Green House model was designed on this principle specifically for people seeking the worth and meaning in late life. Its design is meant to support a distinctive form of intentional community that is devoted to fostering late-life development. It generates human warmth through its commitment to small size, the de-emphasis of hierarchy and commitment to integrating into the surrounding community.
Our turn-of-the-century nursing homes are the product of a single-minded focus on “economies of scale.” They collect expertise, labor, equipment and elders according to the same logic that led Andrew Carnegie to built mammoth soot belching steel mills. A relentless effort to reduce costs and standardize operations has encouraged large size in long-term care. While the financial argument in favor of gigantism is well established, the balance sheet fails to record the human cost of largeness. Being “cared for” along with one to two or even three hundred other similarly situated people carries a price that, while non-economic, is substantial.
The Green House model has proven that intentional communities should and can be built on a human scale, one that answers to the purposes of community rather than the economics of an industrial enterprise. The ideal Green House is the community Green House, designed to have as little distinction as possible between the surrounding residences because they are meant to be part of the community. This vision has been brought to life by St. John’s in the form of a community-based Green House — an intentional community providing the potential viability of a small, warm sanctuary for elderhood.