SkelleyBoomers_1_351Forget those Tuscan villas on the fairway. Seniors’ housing is moving back into the city and near a transit stop, and may include jam sessions in the community theater. That’s the cue from new developments aimed at baby boomers, the first wave of whom are already reaching 65.


“Mixed-use urban settings are the next generation of senior housing,” says Mitchel K. Brown, ULI Senior Housing Council chair and chief development officer of Carlsbad, California–based Kisco Senior Living. “These places will be highly walkable, multigenerational, and provide access to all major services without driving.”



Case in point: Long Beach Senior Arts Colony, in downtown Long Beach, California. Built by Los Angeles–based

Meta Housing Corporation

, t
he project faces a light-rail stop and a much-traveled bus corridor, offers amenities ranging from billiards and a community garden to movies to yoga, and includes a second phase of multigenerational, multi-income, multiuse components, such as a ground-floor grocery store.


“Many boomers [grew] up in suburban environments. They recognize a chance to be a kid [again] and take advantage of urban opportunities,” says designer Michael Bohn, principal of

Studio One Eleven

, based in Long Beach. “The goal is to flourish with a healthy mind and body in a creative environment with complete access to the things one loves and needs—both on site and nearby. The location and design integrate closely. It’s not a five-minute walk to the light-rail station—it’s right at the station.”


Rail links residents to two major job bases (Long Beach and Los Angeles), the cultural attractions of Long Beach, three major medical facilities, and California State University at Long Beach.


“That makes this the best of all worlds,” says Bohn.


Awards committees agree. Senior Arts Colony recently took the

Gold Nugget Grand Award

from PCBC, the major West Coast housing conference, and previously won the

Sage Award

from the 55+ Housing Council of Southern California.


It’s a large colony. At buildout,
the project is entitled for 356 units of housing and 42,000 square feet (3,906 sq m) of retail space. It
will be massed with the multistory buildings pushed toward busy Anaheim Street, then stepping down to two to three stories along existing residences.



“It’s not a giant box that is the same everywhere,” says Bohn. “We want to stitch the project into the neighborhood. Pedestrians help activate the amenities—visual arts and music, gym, yoga, billiards, computer library, and two lobbies—so as you’re walking along you engage the buildings. A courtyard faces the back side, capturing southern light and ocean breezes, with a jewel of a performing arts theater raised on a 25-foot-high podium.”


This arts orientation offers what ULI’s Brown calls an “affinity” aspect: “For the generation coming down the pike, nobody wants to think about what I’m not going to do. It’s about what I am going to do next. In many cases, it will be the things I wanted to do since my college days . . . or have always been doing since those days. We never use the ‘R word’ [retirement].”


And just as smart places mix uses, these complexes mix generations. Long Beach Senior Arts Colony will eventually include all ages.


“It’s not just a seniors’ enclave,” says Bohn. “It invites community members, and connects to arts programs at the Long Beach school district, with residents performing with students. It weaves into the neighborhood—not just physically, but socially.”



One thing that makes communities great is that the elders can be with the youngest members, share the same environments, and watch out for each other,” says Brown. “It’s important to make the connection with local daycare and schools.”


Brown ultimately sees the “affinity” connections expanding into subsets. He’s already noticed seniors’ housing focused on gay and lesbian communities as well as college alumni groups.


Note: Jack Skelley, the author, represents Studio One Eleven.