WHEN CHARLENE DICALOGERO LIVED ALONE in an apartment in Watertown, she knew none of her neighbors. “I felt lonely and isolated,” says the 53-year-old, a grants administrator at Lesley University. But since buying a $230,000, 700-square-foot home at Camelot CoHousing in Berlin four years ago, DiCalogero couldn’t be lonely if she tried.
Camelot is an enclave of 34 compact homes with welcoming front porches that sit clustered together in this rural town, about a half-hour drive northeast of Worcester. The road and parking areas are off to the side, while pedestrian walkways wind among the houses. The development is engineered to encourage relationships with neighbors — and it seems to be working.
Passersby receive invitations to join homeowners for a glass of wine, or, for the kids on scooters, an offer of a Kool-Aid “for the road.” Those who want to can share communal dinners a couple of times a week at the complex’s common house, which also has been the site of dance classes, board game nights, and a workshop on falling safely, attended mainly by the sort of older folks who worry about breaking a hip.
The neighborhood of about 80 people, ranging in age from 80 to 8 months, is small enough that everyone knows everyone else, yet large enough to ensure privacy. That community size is by design, too, an element of co-housing since it was pioneered in Denmark in the 1960s and ’70s. Camelot, with both market-rate and affordable housing, opened in 2008 and sold its last available unit in 2012. Another co-housing development, Mosaic Commons, is just down the hill.
With a one-bedroom unit easily adapted to walkers and wheelchairs, DiCalogero, who is single, now calls Camelot her retirement plan. “There are interesting people around who will be there to help me if I get sick and can relate to me as I get older,” she says. Sure, she adds, the modest homes are “not single-family houses on 2 acres — but why would you want to [live like] that if you have a choice?”
DiCalogero is not the only baby boomer thinking ahead to how she’ll stay active and socially engaged in the decades to come. Camelot is one of 13 developments of its kind in Massachusetts, with more inevitably on the way. And co-housing is just one of many ways boomers are trying to avoid being alone in their later years, or at least delay moving into a nursing home.
Few of America’s 78 million 49- to 67-year-olds have any intention of aging the way their parents have, wedded to their independence at all costs, even if it ultimately means social isolation. Plenty of older people are moving in with their boomer children, but many others don’t want to be a burden — for them, the plan is to stay home until they can’t anymore.
But not the baby boomers, who can envision all sorts of alternate living arrangements. “To [the older generation], living alone is the only measure of success, but the boomers’ comfort with interdependence means there are many options,” says Dr. Bill Thomas, an influential geriatrician and author based in New York. “Aging in community, rather than all alone, is going to make the boomers’ experience of old age different than anything that ever came before.”
It may be time to start calling the “Me Generation” the “We Generation.”
JOANNE TULLER, a 58-year-old community health center administrator, has lived with other people — other people who aren’t relatives — for her entire adult life. She loved college dorm life, so after she graduated, Tuller moved to a co-op in Cambridge with seven housemates. This is great, she recalls thinking early on. This is for me.
More than three decades later, Tuller owns a big Victorian in Dorchester with her partner and shares it with five other adult men and women — plus one newborn. The residents buy their food together, split the cooking and other chores, and each pays about $525 a month.
While admitting collective living isn’t for everyone, “I expect that boomers are going to find the idea less radical than older people,” says Tuller. “Boomers are community-oriented, they went to college and lived in dorms, the hippie [experience] makes them more open to living with people they’re not related to.”
There are compelling demographic reasons why Tuller’s prediction is good news. For one, the pool of family caregivers is shrinking. Some 1 in 4 boomers never had children; those who did may have sons and daughters thousands of miles away. One-third of the population will face old age single — either widowed, divorced, or never married. Already, 4 million 50-plus women live in US households with at least two other women of similar age. Continued...