BOOM: Will this community “change America’s idea of urban life?”


New master-planned community proposal for Palm Springs
Images: BOOM

New master-planned community proposal for Palm Springs
Images: BOOM


It’s a story told over and over again: today’s seniors will not go gently into retirement. They’re not interested in Geritol or large print: they are, as marketing guru Seth Godin has written, “just as open to new experiences, products, and lifestyle choices as the hot and favored marketing demographic—18-34 year olds.”

Developers of a new senior housing high-rise in Portland were surprised when residents requested parking for their kayaks. And in cities like Oakland and Seattle, seniors are gravitating toward more progressive living options like cohousing.

But I do wonder if aging boomers are ready for this:

BOOM is a new master-planned community in Palm Springs that is setting out to “change America’s idea of urban life.” The brainchild of ten cutting-edge architects including Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Lot-Ek, and L2 Tsionov-Vitkon, BOOM, the press release tells us, “was conceived for the gay community but readily extends its embrace to all.”

Although America’s new breed of senior citizen may be more youthful, more adventurous, more athletic, more tech-savvy, I’m wondering if they are really ready to embrace all this fabulousness.

The press release continues, “The demands of the gay community are more ambitious than traditional retirees. Gay Americans have a history of pioneering new ways of living and with BOOM, they want a community that is multi-generational and socially diverse… [BOOM is all] about inclusion, not seclusion; about living, not retiring.” BOOM will consist of 300 homes in eight unique neighborhoods, each designed by a different architect. Set within a landscaped desert environment, the community will feature such amenities as an entertainment complex, boutique hotel, gym, and wellness center.

It’s hard to reconcile the function of BOOM with the form. I’m all for a radical rethinking of the design and functionality of master-planned communities and am a huge advocate of the types of intergenerational communities that BOOM’s team is hoping to achieve. But even if their intended audience is as design-savvy as they’re assuming, I’m not convinced that these designs are serving potential residents as much as BOOM’s PR mission.

A major component of the development is a website for “social and communal engagement” by designer Bruce Mau. All aspects of the project will, as architect and BOOM co-creator Matthias Hollwich explained, be up for discussion on this site. Architects are often loath to entertain too much client opinion, so I asked Hollwich how his team of ten might respond to online commenters’ suggestions and criticism. He told me the architects were excited to hear public opinion but that final design decisions would be up to them; in other words, the architects are happy to listen but not compelled to comply. Crowdsourced architecture isn’t a great concept to begin with, and in their desire to open themselves up to public opinion, the folks at BOOM may regret what they wished for.