Well, I will start this column with a reflection on why I wanted to do it, and what I think I’d like to see come out of it. First I will start by saying I am an architect by training and practice. This summer I will celebrate my 40th anniversary of coming to Norman to complete my education in architecture. That is a whole other story which doesn’t fit here right now.
Anyway, I came here young and energetic, with my vision of what it would be to practice architecture once I finished school. I had no real vision of focusing on any specific style or type of building design or use –just the vision that I wanted to improve my built environment one building at a time. I was young and healthy with no concept of what it would be like getting older and how that process would change the way I experienced the built environment that I created.
I believe I was 19, had lived through the death of older relatives including grandparents and great aunts and uncles. The idea of disabilities and sickness and frailty were definitely abstract in nature. All I understood was that we get old, sick, and die and that was the nature of life. Since most old people in my life were distant, I had no idea as to how they thought about the process they were going through. I just really didn’t understand it or have time to deal with and think about it. I was busy learning to be an architect.
Well 40 years later, a bike accident that left me temporarily handicapped without the use of my right arm for about 2 months when I was 20, a rotator cuff surgery that left me temporarily handicapped for the better part of two years of recuperating time when I was 56 and finally, a partial discectomy that has helped relieve unbelievable lower back and leg pain here in the last week, I am coming to understand what it means to get older, less mobile, more fragile, and increasingly dependent on others to help get me through the basic activities of life that I cannot do, at least right now, temporarily, myself.
While lying in the bed in room 4929 NW of the NRH Porter Facility recovering after my back surgery on June 22, no longer having to focus on the intense pain I had been experiencing for the previous three weeks, I had time to let the creative part of my brain start reflecting on this experience and how it made me feel about aging, aging in place and living in an age friendly community. In this moment of creative reflection I came up with the idea of this column which includes my personal reflection on this process and in the future will include others personal reflections on their experiences with aging , aging in place and living in a community that considers itself age friendly.
This reflection on what I am experiencing as I get older, how it affects my view of the built environment around me and my participation in the design of that environment, and how you respond to my thought and feelings and perceptions as I am reflecting is what this column will hope to impart.
(David L. Boeck is Associate Professor of Architecture at the College of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma. You can contact him at: DLB@OU.EDU)