NORCs in New York

This interdisciplinary design studio challenges students in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning to come up with creative ways to help seniors in NORCs in New York City and Long Island age in place. The NORC, or the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community is a building, development, or neighborhood with a large senior population that wasn’t purpose-built to be a senior community. Because an overwhelming majority (89 percent, by one measure) of seniors today would prefer to “age in place” in their neighborhood or home, and as few as 9 percent of seniors say they want to live in an age-segregated community, NORCs present an attractive alternative to purpose-built retirement communities.

In New York City, 33 of 42 NORCs are in Corbusian “towers-in-the-park,” and some of the first suburban NORCs in the country have popped up in postwar suburbs around Levittown. While both typologies have demonstrated a certain amount of resiliancy (the elevators, green space, and lobbies characteristic of tower-in-the-park developments often work quite well for seniors), both present unique challenges. In Long Island’s suburbs, for example, a lack of housing and mobility options has resulted in many seniors being isolated in houses they can’t maintain.

After visiting a sampling of NORCs in Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island, students will meet with seniors, NORC directors, healthcare professionals, medical researchers, and representatives from New York City’s Department for the Aging, Housing Authority, Department of Transportation, and others involved in the city’s pioneering “Age-Friendly New York City” initiative in order to better understand the challenges and opportunities that come with aging in place in New York. Students will then draw on this research to creatively identify opportunities for architectural, planning, or landscape-based interventions.  

Co-taught with Dan D'oca, Fall 2012: Harvard University.