Aging in place. That's something residents of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. want to be able to do. What it means is simple: being able to stay in your own home or apartment, in your own neighborhood, for as long as possible as you grow older.
One of the most fascinating recent developments has been the growing number of neighborhood organizations looking to implement an approach to facilitate aging in place. Many are following what's referred to as the "Beacon Hill Village" model. It's based on a remarkable effort begun several years ago in Boston's Beacon Hill area by neighborhood residents -- not by government. The aim: to create a citizen-based, neighborhood organization to facilitate aging in place.
I recently attended a workshop in Boston sponsored by the Beacon Hill Village nonprofit. Individuals from across the U.S. were there, learning from the Beacon Hill staff and board members. I first met Geoff Lewis in Boston. When I arrived in D.C. as part of this Route 50 tour I wanted to stop by to learn more. (Part of the impetus for the rapid growth of Beacon Hill like "villages" has been due to publication by AARP of an article about Beacon Hill).
Over the past year, Geoff and several of his neighbors have been using their diverse talents to develop a similar organization to serve the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It's about a 2 1/2 square mile area south of the U.S. Captiol.
In walking around the neighborhood with Geoff, I saw all kinds of housing (some very expensive; some mixed-income), well-tended parks, vibrant commercial blocks, neighborhood stores, and the famous Marine Barracks. But even with all the positives, there's been a critical missing element: the ability of seniors (especially those with limited mobility) to do their shopping, get to the pharmacy, find a reliable electician or plumber, and get home health care services.
As Geoff explained to me, there's also a desire among seniors to get to know each other better -- and to broaden their own horizons through talks, participating in a book club, and other ways. To Geoff, who is the group's volunteer president, "people in our neighborhood have a lot of talents, they just want ways to share them."
Capitol Hill Village is just about to get underway, as they've hired an Executive Director and found a building to use -- it's where I met with Geoff. $160,000 has been raised through initial memberships. Capitol Hill Village also anticipates seeking private funds to allow for steeply discounted memberships for lower-income residents (that's something Beacon Hill Village also does).
What the good people of Capitol Hill Village, Beacon Hill Village, and dozens of other of these newly forming, neighborhood-based "villages" are doing is grassroots, locally initiated organizing that should benefit not just seniors, but all of us.
You can listen to a 7 minute excerpt of my conversation with Geoff. The photos were taken in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
- to listen to the conversation [press blue arrow to play; click link to download]
- access this conversation on our podcast page
sidenote: the heart & soul of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the Eastern Market, suffered extensive fire damage about a month ago. Residents know that one way or another, it will be rebuilt. Update posted on November 13, 2007: see recent Washington Post article on current status of Eastern Market and how it's already coming back.