What is a NORC and the Top 5 Reasons to Live in One

by Jeff Weiss

I am fortunate to live most of the year in a quaint little New England village in the northeast corner of Massachusetts.  It is a village of a few hundred homes and until recently, the majority of properties were used primarily as summer residences (partially because many of them were not insulated for the winter). But over the past few years, there’s been a shift that is reshaping our village.

I first discovered our village 30 years ago when I was 28 years old. At the time I was one of the youngest full-time residents here. Not counting the summer folks who brought new energy to us every summer, the average age was probably in the mid-70s and was comprised mainly of older couples or widows who had their tight circle of friends.

Although I haven’t conducted a village census to back this up, it is safe to say that the percentage of full-time residents has risen dramatically while the average age has fallen over the past few years. Most of this is due to couples like my wife and I who are empty nesters for the most part (although a big “*” on this point as COVID brought our boy and his girlfriend home to us for much of the pandemic, which was a good thing). Here there is no need to have both a house in the city and a summer place to vacation and selling a property allows Active Agers to turn some of their wealth into liquid assets.

Beyond those practical applications, however, there is a desire to live in a relatively small and tight-knit community where we share the same values. It does not mean that we necessarily see eye-to-eye on things like religion or politics, but it does mean that we all want to live long, healthy and happy lives.  Our village is the type of community that is often referred to as a NORC.

A NORC is a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. Our community was not established as a retirement community nor is it run like one but it is a safe and secure community that naturally attracts older adults. NORCs can take different forms including apartment buildings or condos. Ours just happens to be a village.

Living in a NORC is just one of many options for older adults who want to Thrive in Place. Personally our NORC is ideal for my wife and me for many different reasons including my top 5 listed below:

  1. We feel safe

    There is this wonderful sense of belonging as it is rare to run into someone in our village who we do not know.  And if we don’t know them, it is likely that they are visiting friends of ours. This provides a great sense of safety and security as news travels fast if a stranger appears. It is like having Neighborhood Watch without the signs in the windows. From a practical point of view it means that we are comfortable leaving our doors unlocked at all times unless we are traveling.

  2. We know each other (and each other’s business!)

    Granted this is a double-edged sword, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Although many of us come from different places with a diverse range of backgrounds, we know each other’s stories and we know each other’s “business”.  We know when families are coming to visit, who’s hosting a cocktail party (including who is coming and who was left off the invite list) and what joys and setbacks our friends are facing. While gossip abounds, knowing each other’s lives makes for deep and often strong relationships with a large number of people.

  3. We come together to solve community challenges

    Protecting the community is of high importance to residents of our NORC and, while individuals may have different opinions on how to approach challenges, it is a wonderful thing to see people come together to jointly draft and implement solutions. While we do not have a governing body that oversees the various aspects of our village, we have various associations led by volunteers that manage the key activities and “assets” of our community. And while the operations of these associations are fairly mundane in most cases, when issues do arise, the community comes together to discuss the challenges. Ultimately, through a defined process that is anchored by open communications, solutions are brought to the table and executed for mutual benefit to individuals and the community in general.

  4. We support each other in times of need

    One of the most heart-warming things that happens in a NORC is how the community comes together to support those in need. This includes everything from bringing food to someone who has taken ill to shoveling driveways and sidewalks after snowstorms to checking in on some of the older residents when the power goes out. This type of support is special and does not happen as quickly or collectively in other communities.

  5. We are a multi-generational community with friends of all ages

    Despite NORCs being largely inhabited by older adults, there is a steady flow of children, grandchildren and other relatives into our community.  We often get to know them as well as the full-time residents and relationships develop and flourish based on interests and passions that have little to do with age.  I look at my son as an example, who has great relationships with people his own age as well as deep relationships with friends who are in their 50s and 60s and some well into their 80s or 90s. Personally I believe that having friends of all ages is one of the keys to a happy and healthy and long life. I believe it’s also great practice for bringing generations together and bridging understanding between them.

While living in a NORC won’t be the best option for many older adults as they determine where they want to live as they get older, there are some good insights that are applicable to brands and businesses that are supporting a “Thriving at Home” environment or to those that are property developers catering to older adults. Feel free to contact me if you want to explore how these insights might be applicable to your business.

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