To sustain well-being as our population ages, it is critical that we reexamine how we build and develop neighborhood social support networks. In an increasingly mobile economy, how a community creates connections and integrates new members determines the strength of the community’s resilience. Integration is a fundamental challenge across age boundaries; as we age, are we better served living with peer groups (that understand like challenges because of personal experience) or with a diverse community containing a spectrum of ages.
In seeking inspiration, how can we learn from the examples of co-housing communities that successfully create and sustain community engagement andreciprocal relationships. How can we reimagine the narrative and redefine the proverb “it takes a village” to include both young and old? Evidence of the positive effects of social support on health is overwhelming and suggests one of the most powerful tools in maintaining well-being while aging is improving social support activity/engagement at the community level. Successful co-housing examples abound, from Sunward cohousing in Michigan to East Lake Commons in Atlanta, to Tinggarden Co-housing in Denmark - each with individually reaffirming the promise of co-housing to build stronger, more resilient communities.
One of the starkest examples of the criticality of neighborhood social network support in ensuring positive well-being is highlighted by the "social autopsy" of the Chicago heat wave in 1995; cues of neighborhood deterioration may have prevented elder residents from help-seeking, driving higher mortality rates in areas impacted by blight (deterioration of the psychical space, as confirmed by a quick glanceoutside the window). Further, areas affected by low levels of social capital (captured by reciprocal exchange and network density) also suffered from poor outcomes.
A clear focus on community design, development, and sustainment centered on intentionally creating social capital around the ethos of “it takes a village to support an individual from cradle to grave” could radically improve both individual and social outcomes.