March 17, 2010

USA: "NORC is a funny word, but we didn’t make it up"

. NEW YORK, NY / Urban Omnibus / Features & Forum / March 18, 2010 Planetizen.com The Rise of NORCs Posted by: Nate Berg There are senior-living and retirement communities all over the U.S., but a new breed of housing for the elderly is emerging in cities across the world: the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, or NORC. "Basically, a NORC is a place (a building, a development, a neighborhood) with a sizeable senior community that wasn’t purpose-built as a senior community. What counts as a “sizeable elderly population” varies from place to place (and from one level of government to the next), but NORCs are important because once a community meets the respective criteria, it becomes eligible for local, state, and federal funds retroactively to provide that community with the support services elderly populations typically need. These include (but are not limited to): case management and social work services; health care management and prevention programs; education, socialization, and recreational activities; and volunteer opportunities for program participants and the community. As it happens, there are 27 NORCS in New York City, located in 4 boroughs." Interboro, an urban design, planning and architecture firm, examines the cities NORCs and offers a new book highlighting their role in housing the city's aging population. NORCs in NYC by Interboro Partners NORC is a funny word, but we didn’t make it up. On the contrary, the word is recognized by the local, state, and federal government, and has been in use since 1986. Actually, NORC is an acronym. It stands for “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community.” Basically, a NORC is a place (a building, a development, a neighborhood) with a sizeable senior community that wasn’t purpose-built as a senior community. What counts as a “sizeable elderly population” varies from place to place (and from one level of government to the next), but NORCs are important because once a community meets the respective criteria, it becomes eligible for local, state, and federal funds retroactively to provide that community with the support services elderly populations typically need. These include (but are not limited to): case management and social work services; health care management and prevention programs; education, socialization, and recreational activities; and volunteer opportunities for program participants and the community. As it happens, there are 27 NORCS in New York City, located in 4 boroughs. NORCs are a national – even international – phenomenon, but the NORC movement began right here in New York City, when a consortium of UJA-Federation agencies established the Penn South Program for Seniors in 1986. If we zoom in, we see that almost all NORCS are “Towers in the Park,” that much maligned mid-century planning typology. Moreover, 19 NORCS are in Limited Equity Housing Coops, built mostly in the first half of the twentieth century by unions to house their swelling ranks of workers. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let us say a few words about why we’re so interested in NORCS. First of all, the “naturally occurring” part is intriguing. We’re interested in these sorts of bottom-up dynamics, and have explored them in previous projects. But more importantly, we’re interested in NORCS because we like them, and like what they do for the city. Of course, one of the greatest things about New York City is its diversity. New York City is a city that is supposed to tolerate – and maybe even encourage and engender – difference. New York is supposed to be a city where people of different races, classes, and lifestyles coexist, right? Well let’s not forget that generational diversity is an important part of this ideal: just as NYC would be undermined by racial homogeneity, so too would it be undermined by age homogeneity. Now in some ways, this threat of age homogeneity is a very real one: Manhattan, for example, is becoming whiter and younger. In fact, In New York City, the percent of the population that was 60+ decreased from 17.5% in 1990 to 15.6% in 2000 – lower than both the NY State percentage (16.9) and the U.S. (16.3). We might criticize Florida for being a geriatric ghetto, but in some ways, Manhattan is in danger of becoming a youth ghetto. That’s not very New York City! Of course, we also like what NORCS do for the elderly. People grow old, and instead of moving to a purpose-built retirement community in the suburbs or the sunbelt, they stay in the home and the community that they always lived in. “Aging in place,” as some people call it, poses some challenges, but to NORC advocates, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. As the UJC states, “by all accounts, the vast majority of older Americans want to, or by necessity, will remain living in their own home, even as they grow frail.” So what we’re working on is an “Advocates Guide” to NORCs. We’re enthusiastic about NORCs, and we would like to see more of them, and so we thought it would be a good idea to develop a book that would make the case for NORCs very clearly, but also supply people with a few items – postcards, maps, advertisements for example – that could help “sell” the NORC. [rc] Click here to continue reading this report Urban Omnibus