by Jerry Maltz AIA and Lorraine Hiatt Ph.D.
Event: NORCs — Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities
Location: Center for Architecture, 06.22.10
Speakers: Nat Yalowitz, MSW — LCSW President, NORC Program at Penn South Housing Co-op & President, National NORC Center, NYC; Georgeen Theodore, AIA — Principal, Interboro Partners & Assistant Professor, Infrastructure Planning, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Organizer: AIANY Design for Aging Committee
The term NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) is a demographic descriptor, referring to a building or group of buildings in which numerous residents have lived for many years and a significant number of them have become senior citizens. The term was coined in the 1980s, and legislation now exists in many states, including NY, that enables qualifying buildings to apply for official designation, making them eligible for public funding for supportive services programs (SSPs) for seniors. NORCs aim to provide a comprehensive array of these services to meet the specific needs of seniors in close proximity to their residences. This aging-in-place approach is considered to be the most desirable and most affordable solution for seniors living in urban environments.
There are now 43 official NORC programs in NYC, located in four boroughs (none in Staten Island). Their physical characteristics, SSPs, and residents’ activities are described in a book, A Guide to NORCs in NY, researched by Interboro Partners. A surprising number of them are towers-in-the-park complexes. Many of the older building groups (1920s-30s) began as limited equity housing co-ops (LEHCs) sponsored by labor unions, and the original residents were mostly union workers. In the 1960s and 70s many federal, state, and municipal subsidy programs were used to build similar “affordable” housing complexes. These buildings tended to retain their residents for long periods of time, enabling them to become NORCs. With different approaches to the design of affordable housing communities nowadays, the physical characteristics of future NORCs are likely to be more horizontally organized. Interestingly, the entire town of Greenbelt, MD, a garden city with about 2,500 single-family homes built in the 1920s, has recently become a NORC — a significant example of horizontal organization.
NORCs tend to provide generational diversity in urban neighborhoods, since many residents use amenities outside the NORC itself. And there is some evidence that living in a NORC extends residents’ life spans.
Coincidentally, on 06.28.10, Mayor Bloomberg issued a statement indicating that NYC has become the first member of the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities. The Mayor commented, “New Yorkers are living longer than ever before, and it’s important that we engage our senior residents so they, too, can benefit from everything our communities have to offer… We will continue to work with our age-friendly network partners to transform our city into a place that maximizes the health and active participation of New Yorkers of every age.” The development of NORCs contributed to this effort, and the AIANY Design for Aging Committee aims to raise awareness so the city can become ever more age-friendly.