A recent Huffington Post article, “8 Things Boomers Really Need,” suggests a few ideas for products and services that boomers could really use, including a few that are already offered by boomer-savvy entrepreneurs.
I was thrilled to see first on the list the need for alternative living arrangements, particularly the suggestion of communal living, an idea I have discussed often over the years, in this blog, in books and articles, with friends and colleagues, particularly other futurists, as we analyze trends and consider not only what is probable but also what is possible.
As I was reading through the next 7 ideas, it occurred to me that a few of the others could actually be solved by the first one—if we reimagine what we mean by community.
More and more talk in the media focuses on how boomers are different, how they are going to redefine retirement and even aging itself. Yet in our discussions, we still seem to get stuck on the status quo, on the way things have always been done. The future is painted as less reinvention and more minor upgrade.
When I talk about communities of the future, I am not talking about Retirement Villa 2.0, the same old isolating minimum-age community of people who may have nothing in common beyond being in the same generation. I am not even talking about communal living of boomers in their own homes, sharing a cook, a housekeeper, a driver, a doctor.
That idea still leaves unfulfilled needs, as is clear by these needs being enumerated separately in the Huffington list: a personal assistant paid for by Medicare, community service volunteers (such as teens) being designated not just for nursing homes but to visit people still living in their homes. Even discounts along the lines of free grocery delivery and free online shipping and the need to ease travel for aging parents could be covered to some degree by a truly alternative living arrangement.
What’s missing in the equation? Other generations. If businesses (and boomers themselves) want to truly fulfill the needs of the future, intergenerational communities are the key. The Huffington article (and so many similar articles about boomers) conveys this sense of growing needier as we age and having less to offer. This is far from true. Every generation has needs. These needs simply change. And with each passing year, we have more to offer, not less. More wisdom, more experience, more skill, more connections—the list goes on.
We don’t need a community to take care of us. We need a community in which we all take care of each other, in which we don’t need volunteers or personal assistants visiting us to keep us company, help with groceries, or take us to appointments. Save those volunteers for the needy! Save that Medicare money for the medical expenses so that we can stay healthy and active in our community.
In an intergenerational community, we can get whatever help we need while returning the favor, helping younger generations with our networks, expertise, childcare, or the services we offer through our own businesses. After all, the 55–64 age group is the fastest growing, most successful group of entrepreneurs (see “What Moves You?”).
Notice in the comments on the Huffington article the discussion of very real fears about safety and crime when bringing health workers and other aides into one’s home. In an intergenerational community, the people who help you, who spend time with you, are the people you help in return. They aren’t strangers. They are your neighbors. Does this eliminate the possibility of crime or of someone taking advantage of another? No, it doesn’t. But it greatly minimizes the chances when the people you interact with aren’t strangers, when they live in the same community day by day, receiving as well as giving.
This is only one example of why it is not enough to look at the statistics and trends and simply apply them to who we are now, collectively, or who we’ve been in order to plan for our future. We all need to question our assumptions about who we will be—who we can be—tomorrow.
Let’s stop looking at our lives and our futures as a new coat of paint on the lives of our parents and grandparents. Let’s create something new, all of us, at every age and stage—together.
Because that is what boomers really need.
Image by FamilyMWR