Tim Carpenter is the Founder and CEO of EngAge, a nonprofit that transforms affordable senior apartment communities into vibrant centers of learning, wellness and creativity. Tim served on the board of the National Center for Creative Aging, and catalyzed the creation of the Burbank Senior Arts Colony, a first-of-its kind program in the nation. He will look for the next big idea to fuse housing, environmental design and program design to benefit healthy aging. The senior population is both expanding and evolving, and this requires a new examination of the design of the environments in which people age.
The Challenge : the thorny issue I sought to address was to find the next big idea in senior housing – to fuse housing, environmental design and programs to achieve higher engagement, behavior change, sense of community and sense of purpose for elders.
The Hunch: I would find the solution outside the US and it would be a model that already exists in senior housing and the provision of aging services.
The Proposal : I wanted to focus on models from other countries, and to have time to write about my findings in retreat from work. I set meetings in each place with government officials, universities, thought leaders, NGOs, developers, architects, aging industry leaders, media, artists, cultural leaders and others.
The Stanton Journey: I traveled to New Zealand, Italy, The Netherlands and Ireland with Fellowship funds (due to speaking engagements during the fellowship, I also was in Singapore, Canada and many US states), and also took two week-long writing and research retreats. My path changed early on when I started meeting with people in New Zealand and I became more interested in finding ways to create community across all ages as a way to address my inquiry challenge. I realized that community happens in a place like New Zealand (and all of the other countries I visited), not just for seniors but for everyone, because of an adherence to culture, mythology, belief, and a feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself. This struck me as what is lacking in senior housing, and in many ways, in our communities, our cities, our towns. It made me think that the buildings we help create and the programs we provide are a good step in the right direction, but not enough. We needed to play a larger role in communities, in neighborhoods, amongst the people who lived in these places. It is about PLACE and it is about PEOPLE. During my travels, I see that an intentional linkage of public and private space, a place that offers people somewhere to go, and more importantly a reason to stay, to be there, succeeds. People. That’s the prize, right? People bring people. What do people want? Comfort, greenery, water, walkability, ARTS, culture, a respect for history and neighborhood, education, fun, food, parks, views, a sense of connection and community, a sensory connection to the human spirit. We want all ages, curiosity and diversity and open acceptance to who we are. We want outside the box use of space to create a sense of place, of purpose and belonging. We want gardens and, did I mention the arts? Music, dance, visual art, performance. We want to smile and look around and see others smiling. We want accidental spill-over between our circle of life to inhabit and infect the circles of others, to feel part of something larger than ourselves. Connection. We can design buildings and places but it’s only the hardware. We are the software.
Where You Are Now : my work, and frankly my life, has been forever altered by this experience as a Stanton Fellow. As a result of this two-year journey, the work of EngAGE, my work, has changed. We have changed our design methods in the buildings we have in development with our partners to more carefully curate the public and private spaces to better match the people that will live there. We have expanded from seniors-only into all-ages multigenerational communities. We have also begun to work more closely and carefully with community partners to make sure our communities and programs are integrated fully into the tapestry of the neighborhood and those that live there. As a most recent example, we entered into a partnership with a developer to purchase and operate a free-standing cultural facility in NE Portland (the Alberta Abbey) to further our ability to affect that neighborhood with our affordable housing and programs, and to breathe life back into what was once the traditional African American community there through housing, arts, culture and true community collaboration. EngAGE will be the curator of programs and engagement for not only the housing, but the neighborhood curator – creating collaborations between cultural orgs, residents, business, and the spaces in between, to create a sense of purpose and community at large. EngAGE now helps developers and development teams create community, not just buildings. My Stanton Fellowship will live on, and infuses everything we now do at EngAGE.