Ryan Frederick was a finalist in Encore.org’s 2016 Fast Pitch competition, which showcased scalable innovations in the encore sector. Veteran TV producer, writer and former Encore Innovation Fellow (2015 White House Conference on Aging) Kim Sedmak spoke with Frederick about Smart Living 360, created by Frederick to focus on innovative living environments that enhance multigenerational well-being.

In March 2016, Frederick and his partners opened The Stories, a 48-unit apartment building in Rockville, MD. The Stories is designed to incorporate the eight domain principles sanctioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) that define an age-friendly community. Civic engagement and creating community are two key principles in supporting people to successfully age in place.

KIM SEDMAK: What first drew you to the 50+ housing industry, as a Gen-Xer successfully working in Northern California’s high-tech sector, with an engineering degree from Princeton and a Stanford MBA?

RYAN FREDERICK:  It’s a calling for me! The more I’ve gotten into this, the less I think of it as 50+ housing and more as how housing should be seen as a platform for community. As we think about living longer, longevity is significant to all of us. It’s about having these habits and norms that allow us to make the most of our lives.

How can we rethink, and effectively disrupt traditional housing models, in favor of those that are less about buildings and more about communities? I think we’re seeing these stealth needs across the country and across age segments. People really are looking for community, looking for purpose – correspondingly, there is an opportunity to create and produce new living environments that make the most of what individuals can be in a community context.

My background ties into this because technology will play a big role in how we can live our best lives as we age. We’re entering this stage where solutions are multidisciplinary. It’s a challenging problem, but a huge fulfillment to be part of this movement.

KS: That’s all very admirable, but most people don’t move across the country and convince major investors to be part of building a multi-million-dollar apartment complex emphasizing the unique landscape of the 50+ market – especially with no actual track record in the building industry. How did you do that?

RF: Over time, you find what you’re good at. You want to be in a place where you amplify your strengths, and have a team to help round out the gaps.  I’m good at identifying trends that span multiple areas; I think the way we’ve previously approached housing for older adults is not where the future is.

What persuaded my partners at Federal Realty Investment Trust was my challenge to what’s relevant in a lot of markets right now. A lot of new apartment buildings are being built to focus on millennials.

I was able to convince Federal of the benefit of a product that appealed to a group beyond (maybe including) millennials, and also, understanding the building more as a community, with more of a soul to it.

I think they wanted a new plan to add to their new-developments playbook. Sure, the investment was over $10 million, but I think the risk calibration made sense to them. What’s really exciting for me is the real tangible story, a real tangible environment that we can point to as a new way of doing things. I think it allows people to touch it, feel it and say, “This is different.”

KS: Why did you name the building The Stories?

RF: Early on, we felt it was important to create a brand that could create a distinct product. The key piece is we’re all living longer. And, we all have these chapters in our lives. Also, all the research shows that lifestyle choices are at least as important as your DNA. In terms of making the most of life as you age, our stories make us unique. Yes, we’re still writing these chapters – we want to empower people to aspire to this goal – and that’s what’s opposite to the traditional retirement model.

KS: From your perspective, give us a visual of the property.  

RF: One of the first things we asked is, how can we create a design for all ages? We incorporated universal design principles – showers instead of bathtubs, slip-resistant tiles, blocking behind the walls for grab bars, higher outlets, ergonomic hardware, roll-out shelving – all kinds of small things to make it easier to meet different lifestyle needs.

We also have fiber optic cables in the building and in each unit, which permits a “smart” home and an infrastructure that will enable people to feel empowered as innovations in health care evolve.

Communities require common spaces. So, we included a club room, a catering and events room, and a state-of-the-art health facility for fitness, strength and rehab needs. There’s a conference room for accommodating tele-health needs, where distant nurse practitioners can connect to the residents, for example.

Yet it’s very much a pedestrian-friendly building, for people of all ages. We’re close to grocery stores, coffee shops, retail, restaurants, the Metro is two blocks away.

From an operating model perspective, we have a “lifestyle ambassador” who really creates and sustains this culture. Our brand pillars are connection, access and simplicity, by supporting the building community, easing access to personal and professional services and simplifying the chores and challenges of daily life, so building residents can focus on what’s most important in their lives.

KS:  Is the concept of purpose “baked” into this housing model?

RF: It’s key. The vision of understanding your purpose and knowing that your lifestyle choices matter as you get older is not common knowledge – yet.

We haven’t yet proven the concept. People value what they can see: a good-sized two-bedroom, nicely appointed amenities, good location. It is our hope over time that the people who live here come to recognize that purpose really makes a difference in their lives. When that happens, then we will have a very different conversation about aging and health.

Watch Ryan Frederick’s Fast Pitch video here.

Visit AARP’s Livable Community Index to see how your community scores for aging in place.

Published: July 7, 2016