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Mike RobinsonMy Mom is still teaching me life lessons in her 90s. Chief of these recently has been the creation of an intentional community in which to retire.

After a year spent essentially nursing my father through his final days in a fashionable, for-profit Vancouver rest home, he died and she decided to move into an apartment. Mom was then 84.

The place she chose was situated in a lovely older, concrete high-rise on Vancouver’s Balsam Street, in a neighbourhood renowned for great retirement amenities and safe walking.

Several of her friends, mostly octogenarians, lived there and they practised open-door hallways, very civilized pre-dinner drinks visits and shared home-cooked meals. Many also enjoyed weekly bridge sessions, friendly walks to the neighbourhood stores and celebratory restaurant dinners on the weekends. And everyone did their laundry together.

Because many of the other tenants worked, and some families with young children were present, Mom’s building mimicked the Vancouver community. For her cohort, it was an intentional community, functioning as an elder sorority, for almost all of the male partners had passed on to their next planes.

In her early 90s, Mom started children’s art classes for neighbouring kids. Overall, the residents significantly cared for one another, intellectually, emotionally and physically. And they retained their residential independence as long as their health permitted.

Inevitably over time, some of Mom’s sororal pals died, and some made the decision to move on when mobility and other health issues dictated the need for more intensive care.

Mom lived in her intentional community until her 95th year, when falls became more frequent. After much discussion with her children, she reluctantly decided to move back to a rest home or, as the industry says, “an elder care community.”

Now once again, 11 years after first being there with my father, she enjoys restaurant meals, organized bus trips to shopping malls and regional tourist locations, classes that promote mental agility through shared problem solving, and a building-bound community of 200 seniors, ranging in age from 65 to over 100.

Gone, however, are the spontaneous interactions with her intentional community pals, and their co-operatively planned adventures in life.

So what’s the answer for the next generation?

I raise the question because the next destination is starting to come up in conversations we’re having. Recently, old friends asked: “Where are we going to live when we have to sell this place?” This place is a beautiful country estate that has absorbed their bountiful energies for four decades. Their garden is legendary. Who’d ever want to leave all this sylvan beauty for an apartment or, god forbid, a rest-home in the city?

The answer is simply that they’d rather not, but what are the options when routine maintenance and isolation start to impair use and enjoyment? And when falls start to happen?

It strikes me that a new version of Mom’s intentional apartment community is plausible and desirable. How about locating three or four of your siblings/siblings-in-law and/or close friends/couples on a country property, and retaining the services of a ‘retirement concierge?’ This employee could have professional training to always act in a manner that maximizes independence of the retirees, while providing needed grounds and building maintenance, transportation and recreational oversight to prevent obvious risks and injuries from occurring.

The retirement concierge might gradually assume an executive assistant role in such matters as income tax preparation, information technology assistance (and training), prescription administration and food preparation.

But the key responsibility of the retirement concierge would be to avoid inserting themselves into any actual duties until absolutely necessary.

Ideally, engagement of this consciously designed benevolent neglect philosophy would happen from the outset of intentional community planning. For example, in selecting and purchasing the property for community development. It should be relatively close to a full-service hospital, so that appropriate levels of care are proximate when eventually needed.

It should be rural enough to enable resident gardening, firewood cutting, ocean/lake swimming, kayaking, biking and forest sauntering.

An architect should be retained to design for sustainable retirement living, mindful of appropriate technology, single-level mobility, door widths that can accommodate wheelchairs and storage shelving that’s always accessible.

Presumably with multiple tenants/owners, this intentional retirement community would also be affordable and enable unique returns on all aspects of the human investment in aging well.

Would such a community appeal to you?

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery.


intentional community retirement

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