We all know about Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; we studied it in school. The Supreme Court unanimously declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Now, more than 60 years later, we find that older people too often find themselves living in facilities that include only the old and disabled. One study found that 30 percent of people would rather die than face such a fate. America’s elders are forced to contend with the widespread practice of segregation by age and ability. We know this type of segregation by the alphabet soup of euphemisms we all (myself included) have helped construct: CCRC (Continuous Care Retirement Community), IL (Independent Living), AL (Assisted Living), MC (Memory Care), SNF (Skilled Nursing Facility).
It is important to also appreciate that our society’s tendency to segregate people by age isn‘t limited to older people. We rigorously sort young people by age and ability and do so from the very beginning of their schooling. Not only are younger Americans isolated from elders, they are separated from people just a year or two older or younger than themselves, and in most cases from those with different abilities. This practice continues in higher education as well. While most universtities have increasingly opened their doors to older students, they also call these students “non-traditional.” They are only “non-traditional” because colleges and universities have been firmly established in the public mind as reservoirs of youth that include their own version of age-segregated living. Dorm life is understood to be exclusively for and about the young.
That is about to change.
I am embarking on a journey with a remarkable university partner – the University of Southern Indiana (USI) in Evansville — on a year-long pilot project aimed at creating a cultural transformation related to aging in community (Read the full release). With support from AARP, Indiana AARP and numerous stakeholders, we will pioneer a new (and very old) way of living. We call this new approach—MAGIC.
MAGIC stands for: Multi-Ability, multiGenerational, Inclusive Community.
Our goal is to bring together people of different ages, with different abilities and from different backgrounds, and look at ways to inspire and sustain a genuine human community.
We are honored to join them in this effort.
We will kick off the MAGIC Pilot Project this spring by co-designing a model smart home. This “MAGIC Model House” will serve as a demonstration home showcasing the latest accessibility design, smart-home connectivity and low cost modular prefabrication methods I’ve developed through my Minka Dwelling project. We designed the Minka as an affordable housing platform that can be adapted to meet the needs of people of different ages and abilities.
All work will be grounded in an authentic partnership approach with USI leaders, faculty, students and community partners using the open source Liberating Structures participatory design framework. These methods are open and accessible to anyone and we will share our findings, successes and failures to help others follow in our path. While the specifics of our journey have yet to be created, we have already worked together to envision a community where young and old live in close proximity, with a focus on fostering “independence together” through mutual support, social engagement, convivium (good food with good friends) and natural physical activity (like walking and playing).
In beginning this work, our first insight is, perhaps, the most important. We recognize that there is no straight line connecting where we are today with where we want to be. But such a path does exist in the ancient symbol of the labyrinth. I’ll let Jude Meyers Thomas (a certified labyrinth Instructor) explain the difference between a labyrinth and a maze…
Although they may appear similar (each has a complex series of pathways) labyrinths and mazes are actually very different. A “maze” is intentionally designed to mislead you and get you lost. Some mazes include multiple entrances and exits and many have dead ends. Inside a maze, a person has to make many choices about which way to turn. The labyrinth, in contrast, helps us (metaphorically) find our way. There is just one path and we follow it to and from the center of the labyrinth. The labyrinth’s twists and turns serve to remind us that, if we just keep putting one foot in front of another, we’ll find our way home. — Jude Meyers Thomas
MAGIC can also take us home
Throughout 2018 we will be sharing our MAGIC journey with you. There will be plenty of twists and turns but we know exactly where we are going. We are building a solid new foundation for creating independence— together.
We will challenge segregation by age and ability (for young and old alike) by bringing to life to the first of what will hopefully be many MAGIC communities spread across the nation. This is our past, and our future. Fortunately for us all, this journey begins in partnership with a courageous university and a shared dream of creating a community that embraces people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.
Photos from our first round of MAGIC planning workshops:
Learn more about the MAGIC project from our recent media coverage:
- USI to add ‘tiny’ house model on or near campus for students, older adults – Evansville Courier & Press
- A Home For All Ages: Can Tiny Houses Help Older People Age In Place? — WNIN Public Media
- Collaboration to test Dr. Bill Thomas’ ‘tiny house’ model – McKnight’s Senior Living
- USI Working on New Housing Model – Inside Indiana Business
- USI ‘tiny’ house model only second Minka ever to be built – Evansville Courier & Press