Every house seems to have its “swirl” zone. That place where leaves, seed pods, or snow swirls against something and heaps into a mound. The swirl zone at our house inconveniently forms on the steps to our front porch and the garage door. While away for a couple days, our neighbor decided to blow our leaves; very thoughtful of her.
Inter-connectedness of people is important. With the passing of a brother-in-law recently, people at his memorial frequently remarked how much they’d liked stopping for a chat as he enjoyed an afternoon sitting on his front porch. Acquaintances and friendships grew.
In town centers or neighborhoods, ability to see and feel connection with others is enriching.
It’s sometimes referred to as social capital.
Robert Putnam defined the concept of social capital as “referring to connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them…(It) is closely related to…civic virtue…A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.”
We need each other; from one’s closest confidants, to broader friends and family, to friendly acquaintances that are part of everyday life. Sociologists study the varied levels of relationships and the benefits and rewards of each. Interdependence keeps us from feeling alone and builds strength and confidence.
Within the Livable Communities workgroup of the local Strategic Leadership Council, intergenerational connections and interdependence are discussed as key factors to quality of life in any community. Ways to foster increased connection are regular topics. Factors include everything from housing design to transportation to health and recreation and beyond.
Recent discussions have also shifted to Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs.
The term NORC was coined in 1984 by Michael Hunt, a professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It generally refers to any community where forty percent or more of the residents are aged sixty or above and live in their own homes. Communities can be a town, a neighborhood, even an apartment building.
While NORCs have high percentages of persons over age sixty, they were not specifically planned or designed to meet the needs of seniors living independently in their homes. That happens by circumstance over time.
NORCs are a natural development. AARP has estimated the over a third of the population aged sixty and up live in them. What continues in varied stages of development or experimentation is resident involvement in organized systems of supportive services to each other within the NORC. This happens informally all the time. My neighbor blows leaves, I support her ladder while changing a high lightbulb.
Organized supportive service programs in NORCs take things to a higher, more routine level. Neighbors form an organization, choose routine things they need help with and work out ways to get things done. Sometimes costs can be shared, resulting in less expensive per person costs.
A similar concept is the Village movement. Here neighbors pay an annual membership fee and agree to participate in support services. Support services may have a cost, or be provided through a type of volunteer or barter system.
While NORCs and Villages seem to be alike, Villages are intentional. They can be created new to support a structure of mutual service, and often incorporate use of fees to pay for someone to follow through with the organization needed. Villages are also often intergenerational, incorporating child services as well.
Either way, connectivity is fostered and living is a bit easier. Not a bad outcome.