We mentioned earlier that our show at Common Room 2 takes place in Co-op Village, which has been designated a NORC, or a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. As we prepare for the show, we are becoming increasingly interested in NORCS, and think we might like to someday do a study of NORCS.

A NORC is “naturally occurring” because it sort of just happens, without too much planning. Co-op Village is a NORC because 4,060 of its residents are over 60, even though none of the buildings that make up Co-op Village were “purpose-built” as retirement communities. Again, this sort of just happened. People moved in, made friends, decided to stay for a while, and viola!

Of course, there are factors that determine where and when NORCs will happen (for example, whether the complex is made of moderate income co-ops or a condos, or whether it is a limited-equity or market development, or whether the building stock consists of “tower in the park” architecture or whether it consists of five-story walkups), and neither can it be said that there are no incentives for older adults to leave NORCs. A suburban Sunrise facility might not sound like it could compete with New York City, but in fact it can. Because “purpose-built” facilities come with all of the health and social services older adults need in order to survive, NORCs that don’t retroactively provide these services will be threatened.

Fortunately, in recent years, policy makers at the City, State, and Federal levels have taken a liking to the NORC model, and have on occasion made funds available to NORC Support Service Agencies that retroactively supply the sorts of health and social services that one would find in “purpose-built” facilities.

Most policy makers like NORCs for the same reason we do. In addition to the fact that it fits well with the federal policy shift away from institutional modmodels of care, and toward community-based and consumer-driven models, the NORC model expands the role of older people in their community from recipients of services to active participants in shaping their community as “good places to grow old.” Also, NORCs help retain older adults in the City, something we should all be grateful for. After all, studies show that the overwhelming majority of older people want to stay in their homes in the first place.

But NORCs do face certain challenges, not the least of which is sustainable funding. To find out what some of the other challenges are, we will be asking members of the Co-op Village community to answer a brief survey about the challenges and opportunities about growing older in a NORC. Our hope is that by listening to members of the Co-op Village community, we will be in a better position to understand how people in the architecture and planning community can help the NORC cause.