The US is very concerned these days with the balance of trade. But the US has successfully exported one thing more than any other country on earth. It has exported elements of its culture world-wide. I’ve traveled all over the world and heard American music. I’ll never forget the day I was in Dusseldorf Germany. In the central square was a guy with blond hair, a guitar and a cowboy hat. He had the leather vest, the glasses, everything. He was singing one John Denver tune after another. He looked and sounded exactly like John Denver. Except he didn’t speak a word of English. I’ve heard American music in small family run restaurants in Japan and Taiwan. American fashion has been exported to all corners of the globe. It started in the 1960’s with denim jeans.
The latest thing to be exported to China is American design in senior living, of course, adapted to the unique needs of the Chinese market. Even the concept of senior living communities, whether they be independent living, assisted living, or skilled nursing, the concept originated in the US. If you look through most parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, multi-generational housing is the norm. Kids take care of aging parents. In particular, single income households made this the norm. As the societal changes have taken place first in North America, then Europe and now increasingly in Asia, most households are dual income households. There isn’t the flexibility for one member of the family nucleus to remain at home and care for aging parents. The entire senior housing industry owes its existence to the shift from single income to dual income households. We now take senior housing for granted as part of the societal norm in North America. But it’s relatively new elsewhere. For example, the cost of a paid full-time in-house care-giver is very high in North America. Enabling a senior citizen to remain in their own home with help is by far the preferred solution. But when the labor cost is high, it makes senior housing seem like a relative bargain, even though this too can be expensive compared with just renting an apartment.
Several premier US architecture firms are taking part in exporting the senior living concept around the world.
The more ambitious Chinese senior communities are giant resort-style campuses, connected by a centralized, amenity-rich building offering near-seamless integration between interiors and exteriors.
Los Angeles-based architecture firm Steinberg Hart is another active firm in the Chinese market. The firm has designed over 10.6 million square feet of senior housing in China since opening an office in Shanghai in 2000.
But not everything American is the way to go. When we spend time in Europe we love the community feel that is at the heart of virtually every town in Europe regardless of size. People live, work, dine and shop in walkable neighborhoods. I love the feel of these communities. It exists in the smallest villages of a few hundred people, or in cities of millions. In response to this, many new development projects in North America have embraced the mixed use concept with planned retail, residential, hospitality, office and dining all within a walkable distance. The most famous of these trend setting communities was Santana Row in San Jose California. The success of that project spawned numerous projects around North America that attempted to recreate that town center feeling. Today you see town center projects like this in communities like Plano Texas, West Palm Beach Florida, and more recently in my home town of Ottawa Canada. They lack the centuries of history around a medieval town square. But they are often able to recreate the vibrancy and sense of community that many sterile American cities have lost.
This blending of culture is the result of globalization, but not in the sense of trade. It’s the result of the exchange of ideas.