Intergenerational communities

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Disparity Rating  
Disparity rating: Inconclusive impact on disparities

Strategies with this rating do not have enough evidence to assess potential impact on disparities.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Initiatives to establish intergenerational communities focus on meeting the needs of all residents, especially children and older adults, through municipal planning and programming, and typically aim to promote meaningful interaction and cooperation between individuals of different generations. This approach can focus on a distinct geographic area, such as a neighborhood, town, or county. Initiatives include intergenerational programming and services; built environment modifications to public spaces to foster connection across generations; leadership opportunities for all ages; and housing, transportation, or workforce policies that address the needs of residents of all ages1. Such initiatives can also be called livable communities for all ages, livable communities, or age-friendly communities2, though age-friendly can imply a focus on older adults3. Communities for All Ages is an example of an age-friendly national initiative focused on improving conditions for older adults to broadly benefit communities and individuals of all ages4, 5.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased social connectedness

  • Increased social cohesion

  • Increased civic participation

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved health outcomes

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Intergenerational communities, which establish intergenerationally-focused policies, public spaces, and programs, are a suggested strategy to increase social connectedness1, 6, 7, 8, social cohesion1, 9, and civic participation5, 10 among engaged community members of all ages. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects1, 2.

Available evidence suggests that Communities for All Ages, a national initiative that establishes intergenerational communities through partnerships with local organizations, appears to have benefits for individuals in both urban and rural areas, such as increased social connectedness and trust across generations, increased civic engagement, and improved health4, 5. Those using intergenerational public spaces for physical activity and cross-generation interactions may experience improved health and wellbeing1. Increasing opportunities for civic participation and community engagement may improve physical and emotional health among older adults9. Interactions during intergenerational programming and activities are associated with improvements to older adults’ physical and mental health, socialization, and overall wellbeing, and may also increase physical activity2.

Intergenerational programs can include gardening, music, cooking, art, and physical activities6. A Virginia-based study of intergenerational programming at sites with co-located child care, adult day care, and senior centers found that when programs paired participants and provided individual support by staff members familiar with participants’ abilities, that intergenerational interactions, engagement, and social connections were higher among both children and older adults; however, the number of sessions attended did not appear to impact engagement6. A New York-based study suggests that increased focus on providing services and creating opportunities for civic participation may support health and physical activity for all ages in rural communities, compared with focusing solely on the built environment, though this remains important11, 12.

By fostering connections across generations, initiatives such as intergenerational communities may help mitigate the risk for those at greater danger from climate-related disasters, such as extreme heat and cold, hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding, and public emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals that are socially isolated, older adults, have health and/or mobility challenges, lack access to a cell phone or the internet, or have fixed incomes find it more difficult to stay informed about extreme weather conditions, when to evacuate, or have the means to leave without assistance13, 14. Many of the challenges faced by older adults when it comes to weather and public health emergencies are also felt by families with children15. Campaigns by Departments of Aging and county governments often encourage neighbors to check-in on those in their neighborhood who are more vulnerable and to offer assistance when possible16, 17, 18.

Experts suggest that local governments engage older adults, families with children, and youth in the intergenerational community planning and decision making process to ensure their needs are met and to support improved community health1, 19, 20. However, older adults are generally more involved in community planning efforts, meaning plans may not prioritize the needs of families with children, such as affordable family-sized housing and child care20. Best practices in the intergenerational community planning process include targeting public engagement efforts to each age group; facilitating open discussions in sessions with participants of all ages about generation-specific needs, challenges, and opportunities to connect across generations; and analyzing data on age-specific community resources and conditions19. Local governments should take steps to ensure that older adults and younger residents’ views are given the same weight in the planning process as more powerful stakeholders1, 20.

Furthermore, government agencies, community organizations, public institutions, and businesses can collaborate to embed intergenerational approaches into a variety of policies, programs, and services, along with removing regulatory barriers that would have previously prevented the co-location of multi-use sites, such as senior centers and day cares1, 21. To gain local support, experts recommend beginning with small modifications to existing projects that may have immediate benefits across generations as a way to build public support and funding opportunities. Local governments can partner with community organizations to offer services at school buildings to the broader community; communities with schools and community centers available to those of all ages may have an easier time raising funds for intergenerational programming22. Separate funding streams supporting youth and older adult programming can be a challenge to planning and implementing intergenerational communities4. Those developing intergenerational initiatives should clarify goals and include a plan to evaluate corresponding outcomes3.

State and local governments can support intergenerational housing and neighborhoods with zoning and housing policies that allow for mixed-use developments, featuring housing designed to meet the needs of older adults and families with children21. Zoning changes can support multi-generational housing by permitting the addition or conversion of existing spaces such as detached garages into accessory dwelling units (ADUs); policies for safer streets can include sidewalks that are appropriately sized and maintained for assistive devices and strollers, allowing for access to on-site businesses, services, and other residences for connections across generations1, 21. Public areas designed for intergenerational interactions may include spaces that appeal to different age groups such as parks with playgrounds, walking paths, plentiful accessible seating, and restroom access1, 21. Further research is needed to evaluate the impact of intergenerational environments on users across the age spectrum, particularly for outdoor public space projects1.

However, it is worth noting that age-friendly improvements do not negate the disparities based on race, gender, or social class felt by residents across the age spectrum3. When developing intergenerational communities, experts recommend that planners assess local age diversity; race and ethnicity; income level; civic, social, and cultural engagement, including broadband access and affordability, and voter turnout; and opportunities for education and employment, in accordance with the age-friendly domains established by the World Health Organization (WHO)12. The eight domains for healthy, active aging include: housing, social participation, outdoor spaces, transport and mobility, social inclusion and non-discrimination, civic engagement and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services23.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated inconclusive impact on disparities.

It is unclear what impact intergenerational communities have on disparities in social connection among engaged community members of all ages and backgrounds and across all types of geographic areas.

While intergenerational communities may be established in urban, suburban, and rural areas, experts suggest that rural areas may find implementation more difficult than others30. Rural communities generally have more constrained resources in terms of funding, health care services, local businesses, and community organizations, which limits the options for potential partnerships. The built environment of rural communities may also lack the features of age-friendly communities12. Residences are often more spread apart along county roads with high speed limits and no sidewalks; lack access to public transportation; be at a significant distance from parks or other public gathering spaces; and beyond town centers, rural communities overall are rarely rated as walkable. This can especially diminish options for older adults to gather in support of forming an intergenerational community30, even though some rural areas may be more responsive to the broader service needs of older adults than they are to those of younger residents31. Yet, if members of a rural community are determined to improve intergenerational connections, experts suggest engaging local government for planning and funding support; partnering with schools, libraries, and fire departments that may offer both gathering spaces and options for information-sharing across generations; and collaborating with local organizations and service providers that care for community members of all ages30.

Multi-generational family households have once again become more common in the U.S., which may reflect an increase in individuals from cultures which emphasize intergenerational care and co-habiting, among possible reasons32. Children from varied cultural backgrounds may learn different ways and expectations for interactions with older adults, which may facilitate connections across generations without the need for formal program participation6.

What is the relevant historical background?

Leaders at the federal, state, and local levels have shaped how cities are zoned and designed as well as determined neighborhood demographics and resources. These decisions inform how “livable” cities feel as well as who lives there. Experts suggest American society overall has experienced declining interactions between older adults and younger people since at least the 1960s, attributable in part to the growth of age-segregated communities and limited opportunities for interaction across generations, outside of families33. Multiple generations living in one household were more common in the U.S. before the 1930s, when laws were passed to ensure individuals had financial supports throughout their lifetime, such as unemployment insurance (UI) and Social Security34. However, agricultural and domestic workers, who made up a large portion of the workforce and most of whom were Black, were excluded until 197635 meaning that multiple generations did not have these supports.

Discriminatory housing, lending, and exclusionary zoning policies were also explicit in the era of Jim Crow and government-sanctioned segregation36, 37. In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established with the premise that racial segregation protected property values for white neighborhoods37. As population density increased in urban areas, decision makers at all levels encouraged zoning to distinguish land uses and to encode racial segregation. Homeowners historically opposed construction of apartment buildings, including overt opposition to individuals of color, religious minorities, and other groups moving into what were perceived as white neighborhoods38. Communities adopted explicitly racial zoning ordinances, and later, supposedly race-neutral comprehensive zoning laws, which created exclusive residential areas and banned specific types of commercial businesses, such as laundries in Los Angeles, which were often run by Chinese individuals and families38. Such laws changed the built environment and demographics of city centers and surrounding areas.

Now a desirable feature in communities, housing was historically most dense near transit stops and around ports, railroads, and other industries with workers who could not easily afford public transit. Studies suggest comprehensive zoning maps mostly aligned with existing land use patterns, although some districts’ density increased. In Chicago and Seattle, zoning became more permissive and industrial zoning more likely to be mapped onto neighborhoods home to first-generation immigrants, Black, and Chinese-American individuals and families. Immigrant neighborhoods considered ethnically white were more likely to be zoned as single-family or residential. Overtime, cheaper buses and personal cars meant more people and businesses could locate further from city centers, where land was more affordable, though suburban housing developments continue to have the most restrictive zoning38. Housing authorities, under white leadership, discriminated against Black veterans so they were largely unable to benefit from the GI Bill, which would have supported many becoming homeowners; FHA redlining and racial housing covenants continued to block Black people from homeownership in neighborhoods with good resources and increasing property values37. Efforts to reduce discrimination in housing and federal lending in the 1960s and 1970s were unsuccessful, as evidenced by national and urban area audits37. Zoning appears to have significantly contributed to current inequities, including racial residential segregation, regional inequality, disparities in public resources and services, and unaffordable housing38.

Housing policies which allowed private landlords and rental companies to deny housing to families with children, or to rent to them with unfair restrictions, may have also impacted age-segregation in neighborhoods. As of 1980, 76% of rented apartments in the U.S. were covered under these policies39. Such policies were legal in the U.S. until 1988, when the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was amended to prohibit landlords and real estate companies from discriminating against families with children and individuals with disabilities40. Disinvestment in and unequal distribution of recreational facilities, parks and green space across communities also resulted in disparities in access to safe and accessible parks in communities with low incomes and communities of color41, 42. Discrimination in housing and shared public amenities embedded systemic inequities in communities and continues to impact where people live43 and recreate41, 42.

Formal intergenerational practices and policies are still fairly new, with the focus on creating connections between members of different generations emerging in the 1990s, followed by the need to assess how best to develop, design, and evaluate spaces, policies, and programs to foster those relationships1. More people are living in urban areas than in previous decades, with 8 in 10 individuals predicted to live in cities by 205044. Initiatives to support the interests of diverse age groups in cities through the development of spaces such as public parks, playgrounds, community centers, and walking paths have increased, alongside patterns of gentrification and displacement1. As such, intergenerational initiatives could be paired with inclusionary zoning policies, which are generally used in wealthier, and often gentrifying, areas that are attractive to private development. Inclusionary zoning may increase affordable housing options for families with middle or moderate incomes either to rent or purchase but remain out of reach for families with lower incomes45, 46. Several cities across the U.S. are also implementing anti-displacement strategies as part of park projects, to limit gentrification; these include services for renters and homeowners with low incomes and incentivizing an adequate number of affordable housing units in new developments nearby47, as well as community land trusts, in which a nonprofit owns the land long-term and homes on it are required to be bought and sold at affordable rates to income eligible families48.

Equity Considerations
  • Who could lead intergenerational initiatives in your community? How might you include youth, families with children, and older residents in leadership and planning? How can you ensure their voices are heard, even among more powerful stakeholders?
  • Who are the local stakeholders that can help identify opportunities and locations for intergenerational connections in your community? Which local organizations can become partners? How might you collaborate with age-based organizations and institutions, such as nursing homes or schools, to design programming?
  • Are there existing services or built environment features that might appeal to generations that don’t currently use them? What might be missing? Do these differ if your community is rural, rather than urban or suburban?
  • What efforts can be made to engage both long-time residents and new members of the community to understand each other’s perspective and how that might impact what they hope to get out of an intergenerational community?
Implementation Examples

Generations of Hope is an example of an intergenerational community model, designed to support vulnerable families. Generations of Hope is in place in Portland, Beaverton, and Redlands, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; Tampa, Florida; Rantoul, Illinois; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Easthampton, Massachusetts; as of May 2023, additional communities are in development in Springfield, Missouri; South Bend, Indiana; Chicago, Illinois; Howard County, Maryland; Spokane, Washington; Nashville, Tennessee; and Columbus, Ohio24.

ONEgeneration in San Fernando Valley, California, is an example of an organization that offers child care, adult day care, and additional support services for older adults all at the same location. Their intergenerational programing allows for connections through creative arts, exercise classes, music, games, pet therapy, gardening, cooking, and more25.

Generations United is a nonprofit focused on supporting grandfamilies (i.e., families in which grandparents or other relatives are raising grandchildren), building intergenerational communities, and expanding intergenerational programs and spaces26; the organization has a Grandfamilies COVID-19 Response Fund and other resources for grandfamilies and multi-generational families27.

The Plymouth Intergenerational Coalition is a nonprofit organization in rural Plymouth, Wisconsin. This coalition led the development of Generations, an intergenerational facility that offers programming for residents of all ages and provides opportunities for community engagement. This facility was funded through a combination of local public and private funds28.

As of 2013, the National Communities for All Ages Network included 23 local initiatives in eight states spanning urban and rural areas5. As of May 2023, the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities includes 753 communities across the U.S. that have committed to being great places for people of all ages to live and actively engage residents of all ages in the process of identifying and meeting their community’s needs. Age-friendly communities generally focus on the healthy aging of older adults and while they have benefits across communities, they may not explicitly focus on children and intergenerational connections29.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

WHO-Age-friendly guide - World Health Organization (WHO). National programmes for age-friendly cities and communities: A guide. Geneva, CH: World Health Organization (WHO); 2023.

CFAA-Resource guide - Brown C, Henkin N. Intergenerational community building: Resource guide. Philadelphia: Communities for All Ages (CFAA), The Intergenerational Center, Temple University; 2012.

Generations of Hope - Generations of Hope. A way of life that makes a difference.

GU - Generations United (GU). Because we are stronger together.

AARP Livability Index - American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). AARP Livability Index: How livable is your community?


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23 WHO-Age-friendly guide - World Health Organization (WHO). National programmes for age-friendly cities and communities: A guide. Geneva, CH: World Health Organization (WHO); 2023.

24 Generations of Hope - Generations of Hope. A way of life that makes a difference.

25 NCOA-Stone 2022 - Stone D. Senior center spotlight: ONEgeneration takes intergenerational approach to meet community needs. National Council on Aging (NCOA). 2022.

26 GU - Generations United (GU). Because we are stronger together.

27 GU-COVID-19 - Generations United (GU). COVID-19 responses and resources.

28 Generations - Generations: An intergenerational center. Plymouth, Wisconsin.

29 AARP Age-Friendly - American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities: The member list.

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38 Shertzer 2022 - Shertzer A, Twinam T, Walsh RP. Zoning and segregation in urban economic history. Regional Science and Urban Economics. 2022;94:103652.

39 Ritzdorf 1987 - Ritzdorf M. Planning and the intergenerational community: Balancing the needs of the young and the old in American communities. Journal of Urban Affairs. 1987;9(1):79-89.

40 HR 1158 - 100th Congress 1987-1988. House of Representatives (HR) 1158: Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.

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44 Gianfredi 2021 - Gianfredi V, Buffoli M, Rebecchi A, et al. Association between urban greenspace and health: A systematic review of literature. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021;18(10):5137.

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46 Urban-Stacy 2021 - Stacy CP, Morales-Burnett J, Noble E, Hodge T, Komarek T. Inclusionary zoning: How different IZ policies affect tenant, landlord, and developer behaviors. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2021.

47 Rigolon 2019 - Rigolon A, Németh J. Green gentrification or ‘just green enough’: Do park location, size and function affect whether a place gentrifies or not? Urban Studies. 2020;57(2):402-420.

48 Grannis 2021 - Grannis J. Community land = community resilience: How community land trusts can support urban affordable housing and climate initiatives. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Climate Center, Georgetown Law; 2021.