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Being a Good Neighbor Makes a Difference

With a commitment to community as one of our core beliefs at Optima®, it’s no surprise that we are tuned into the notion of neighborliness and what it means to be a good neighbor. We take great satisfaction in nurturing the desire for connection and engagement with residents across all of our communities and love to keep abreast with research that lends new insight into why it matters to know your neighbors.

In a recent Axios piece, published on July 27, 2022, Erica Pandey explores “The power of knowing your neighbors.” Drawing data from a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2019, here’s what we’ve learned:

A majority of Americans don’t know most of their neighbors — and they barely talk to the ones they do know.

Why it matters: Strong communities boost the health, happiness, and longevity of their residents. Befriending neighbors ensures a helping hand in times of need and provides new friends to explore your larger neighborhood. But over the last several decades, our connections with our neighbors have been fraying.

What’s happening: We’re leaving our homes with screens in our hands. And since the pandemic made us even less likely than we were before to stop and chat with new folks, most of the people living around us are strangers.

Optima Lakeview’s communal sports lounge, golf simulator and basketball/pickleball court

Thankfully, each of our Optima Communities supports plenty of opportunities to engage with fellow neighbors, whether you know them or not! We design spaces that inherently bring people closer to each other, closer to their environment and closer to themselves. This intention manifests itself from the thought-provoking artwork that fills the hallways of each community to the wealth of communal amenity spaces, including fully outfitted sports areas, movie theaters, party and game rooms and state-of-the-art fitness centers. 

Along with our state-of-the-art amenities, each of our onsite teams carefully curates a variety of social events and programs throughout the year. From hosting food trucks and music and cocktail nights to flower arranging courses and fitness classes, we take the time to understand each of our residents’ interests, so we can thoughtfully tailor our programming around them!

And because we not only see the value in having a tight-knit community within our walls but within our broader neighborhoods, we created the Optima® Connect Program. Through the program, residents in each of our multi-family communities receive exclusive benefits and discounts to local businesses around their larger communities, further fostering a friendly community ecosystem.

Supporting connection among our residents and neighbors is something we care deeply about at Optima. So, what’re you waiting for? Step outside and spark a conversation today!

Trending Now: Backgammon — Fun and Then Some!

If you’re feeling sheepish about using your “free time” to settle into the card room at Optima Verdana® with a friend, relative or neighbor — and a backgammon board between the two of you — worry no more. You are about to engage in a high-value activity with a game that is a perfect combination of relaxation and stimulation.

That’s because backgammon, one one of the most classic board games, is a treasure trove that offers you far more than entertainment.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to discover its delights, backgammon is a two-player game. It uses a board with a series of narrow color-coded wedges and two sets of 15-pieces, one for each player.There is also a pair of dice and a cube used for betting, called a doubling cube. The ancestors of backgammon date back nearly 5,000 years to Mesopotamia and Persia; the earliest record of backgammon itself dates to 17th century England, where it descended from an earlier game called Irish.

Backgammon involves plenty of strategy, coupled with the luck related to rolling the dice at the beginning of each player’s move. With each roll of the dice, you must choose from numerous options for moving your pieces, while anticipating possible counter-moves by your opponent. And when you get the doubling cube involved, you raise the stakes during a game. What fun!

And the good times don’t stop there. Backgammon has the potential to boost memory and cognition abilities, regardless of your age, since the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus are given a workout. These areas are responsible for memory formation and complex thought processes. And with the exercise your brain gets through playing, you’ll also decrease the risk of cognitive diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Optima Lakeview’s game room, Chef’s kitchen and dining area

Playing backgammon is fun and confidence-building. When your opponent pulls ahead or you roll double sixes three times in a row, you can’t help but crack a smile. And that means your endorphins are flowing and your blood pressure decreases — as you experience a moment of pure pleasure — all the while enjoying the company of another person. If you are able to organize regular sessions of backgammon with a group of people, imagine how good it can feel to sharpen your skills and strengthen your relationships.

It’s somewhat of a cliché to say that games are for all ages. But a simple truth about backgammon is that it is a fantastic way to teach math and probability concepts to children, while providing a forum for children and adults to relate on a level playing field. Literally.

Backgammon boards/sets come in all shapes and sizes. Choose the one best suited for you and your comrades and head up to the Optima Verdana® game room!

Trending Now: Euchre Anyone?

Imagine a beautiful afternoon in the Optima Verdana® game room, with sunlight flooding the space and the scent of hot coffee and fresh cookies wafting. Sounds like a perfect setting for a rousing game of Euchre.

If you’re not a fan yet, euchre is the faster and wilder cousin of bridge. Both are four-person games with two players on each team that involve bidding, trumping and taking tricks.. As we’ve shared previously, bridge is methodical, complex and mathematically precise. It is often played in near silence, since players need to focus their energies on accounting for all 52 cards in the deck. In contrast, euchre only uses 24 cards, making the game simpler and easier to play, and leaves lots of opportunity for levity. Of the 24 cards — the nines, tens, jacks, queens, kings and aces — only 20 are played each hand, since four cards remain face-down in the “kitty,” increasing the role that chance plays in the game.

Euchre has been played in North America since the early 19th century, and was widely regarded as our national card game. Most researchers agree that it originated in Alsace as “Juckerspiel” and was brought to the New World by German-speaking immigrants. It’s also fascinating that game manufacturers in the U.S. added the first “Joker” to decks of playing cards as a glorified Jack. Once you dig into the game, all of this will make perfect sense!

Optima Verdana’s sky deck features various game rooms among the pool, sauna and spa.
Optima Verdana’s sky deck features various game rooms among the pool, sauna and spa.

As with many analog in-person pastimes, Euchre waned in popularity as mobility and technology offered myriad alternatives for recreation and entertainment. In recent years, however, the trend has started to reverse — in large measure as a response to Covid’s forced isolation. Today, people of all ages are forming weekly Euchre clubs and regular meetups, and once again the game is drawing people together for challenge, camaraderie and relaxation. At Optima Verdana, residents have the luxury of engaging with neighbors in private game rooms, book and cooking clubs, yoga classes and other neighborhood volunteer opportunities!

So while you wait for the card tables to be set up at Optima Verdana®, start learning the rules!

How to Make Your Pets More Comfortable at Home

At Optima, we constantly challenge ourselves to bring exceptional features to our communities that elevate the lives of our residents — and the lives of their beloved pets, too. Whether bringing your pet into a new home or welcoming a new pet into your forever home, ensuring their comfort and happiness should always be a top priority. So, here are our tips for how you can make your furry friend most comfortable in their home:

While it might sound strange, one of the first steps you can take to ensure your pet is comfortable in your surroundings is getting to know the amenities they can utilize throughout your larger community. Outdoor areas and parks like One Bennett Park and Cityfront Plaza near Optima Signature, Lincoln Park near Optima Lakeview and Horizon Dog Park near Optima Kierland make great locations to get outside with your pet. 

Exercise is another crucial factor in a pet’s comfort. Whether you find time to enjoy a refreshing walk outside with your pet throughout the day or spend time with them indoors, an active pet usually equals a happy pet. For pet owners at Optima Lakeview, Optima Kierland, Optima Signature, Optima Sonoran Village and our upcoming Optima Verdana property, our exceptional private dog parks provide the perfect place to exercise steps from home! Additional pet perks for Optima residents include dog walking services, onsite grooming, pet visits and pet sitting!

There are plenty of other steps you can pick up to ensure your pets are safe and stress-free when home. If you don’t work from home, leaving at a set time each day helps set a routine for your pet and can alleviate their anxiety when you’re gone. Crafting an indoor space dedicated to your pet is another great way to make them feel more at home when you’re gone; adorn the area with a comfortable bed and plenty of toys. 

Whether you have the luxury of working from home and spending the day with your furry friend or your time together is limited during the day, making sure your pet is happy and comfortable at home is always important to remember. So make sure you’re taking the correct steps to do so!

Attention all board game lovers!

As we continue to anticipate great times ahead once the Optima Verdana® card room opens — when we will spend many an evening with friends huddled over a backgammon or Scrabble board — we can, in the meantime, feed our curiosity about the history of board games. It’s fascinating!

While much has been written about board games by scholars and laypeople alike, one of the best sources around is It’s All a Game:The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan. Written by Tristan Donovan and published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017, this smart, engaging book by a renowned games expert helps us understand how board games continue to captivate our attention and to bring us back to the proverbial table, in spite of the allure of myriad technology toys and the scourge of decreasing attention spans.

Optima Verdana’s sky deck featuring various game rooms among the pool, sauna and spa.

Throughout the book, Donovan explores the roots of board games’ consistent popularity. Analyzing the influence of social, political, and economic influences on board game designers and manufacturers, Donovan maps the evolution of our modern-day relationship with board games across time, geographies, and cultures. He also examines the impact this leisure activity has had on popular psychology. 

Donovan writes expansively on the history and evolution of ancient games and their current-day counterparts. He traces the Indian and Persian influences on chess and explains how the rules and game pieces evolved to reflect first Muslim and then European societies. He also examines how games like Monopoly developed as games that required both strategy and luck, paying special attention to how the original versions of these games reflected the times in which they were born, and how they changed over time.

Marvin Glass, a board game inventor from Chicago, in the a 1961 issue of Chicago Tribune Magazine

Donovan’s survey of gaming history is full of amusing anecdotes and eccentric characters, including a discussion of Marvin Glass, an eccentric and paranoid toy inventor from Chicago, whose infusion of plastics into board games like Operation and Mouse Trap brought the board game and toy industries together.

If you’re a trivia buff, you’ll also love It’s All a Game, since Donovan spares no detail about board games and their histories. And if nothing else, it will help you build a huge arsenal of interesting tidbits and stories to share when you find yourself gathering and gaming at Optima Verdana®!

Trending Now: The Art of Playing Bridge

No one can dispute the remarkable benefits of participating in multi-player card games — from stimulating the brain to problem-solving with others, relaxation and relieving stress. And then consider the added perks of being in an exceptionally-designed physical space, flooded with natural light and furnished with comfy mid-century Modern gems. Taken together, what could possibly offer a better way to spend a few hours than settling into the Optima Verdana® card room with three other bridge enthusiasts for a friendly match?

For those who aren’t already in the know, bridge is a four-person card game played by two teams who compete to earn the most points by winning tricks: sets of four cards, one from each player. Players are dealt 13 cards each round, in which they bid on how many tricks they think they can win and determine which suit trumps the others. While the origins of bridge are not definitively known, a similar game called khedive appeared in Constantinople before 1870, and a nearly-identical game had been played in Greece prior to that. The game of bridge eventually made its way to New York society in 1893, and it has been a staple in our leisure culture since then. 

Today, according to the American Contract Bridge League, a whopping 25 million Americans over 18 know how to play, even though this is far fewer players than in the 1950s, when at least one person played bridge in 44 percent of U.S. homes. In the past several years, there has been a dramatic onboarding of new players of all ages, very much a result of sequestering at home during COVID-19.

The single best way to learn bridge — and to continue to improve — is simply by playing. And don’t be afraid to read bridge books, listen to podcasts and exchange tips with fellow players. Check out these great bridge resources for endless ways to make bridge playing part of your everyday life. And when you’re ready to take advantage of Optima Verdana®’s extraordinary space to gather and game, grab a fresh deck of playing cards, a few friends and enjoy!

Optima Verdana’s sky deck featuring the party room, billiard table, ping pong table and various game rooms.

Wilmette’s 150th Anniversary

As construction continues at Optima Verdana, we continue to embrace the culture of Wilmette and its surroundings. Throughout the year, the village has celebrated its Sesquicentennial Anniversary through various projects and events, including the Sesquicentennial Photography Project. However, the village is gearing up to bring its celebration to its pinnacle on September 10 at the Wilmette 150 Celebration. 

The event is a commemoration of the countless celebrations and projects Wilmette has hosted throughout the year. Along with the Photography Project, community members plan on sharing the stories of local history in the Voices of Wilmette: An Oral History Project. In honor of the celebration, the Wilmette Public Library is hosting various events educating participants on the history of the village, including one that highlighted German immigration to the Chicago area and another featuring the history of early Illinois Settlement on September 29.  

The festivities kick off in Downtown Wilmette at 11 a.m. THE Wilmette Block Party will include music from the community band, remarks from the Village President and a parade led by the Loyola Academy Marching Band, and is free for all attendees. Along with the entertainment, the celebration will feature a Kid Zone and a variety of food options from local restaurants. 

Downtown Wilmette in the 1940s, Courtesy of Wilmette Historical Society
Downtown Wilmette in the 1940s, Courtesy of Wilmette Historical Society

However, the celebration doesn’t stop there. After submissions end for the Sesquicentennial Photography Project, the Wilmette Historical Museums will curate an exhibition using the chosen photos throughout their museum and in other venues throughout Wilmette. 

To learn more about THE Wilmette Block Party and Wilmette’s 150th Anniversary, visit their website here.

Trending Now: A Brief History of Mahjong

With construction at Optima Verdana well underway, we’re excited about one of the community’s fabulous amenities: the card room. Situated on the rooftop sky deck along with the sundeck, garden lounge, dining area and glass-enclosed pool and spa, the card room is the perfect place for residents to set aside cellphones and other distractions to gather around games that are fun, social and good for our brains. Topping the list of games that will see regular activity in the Optima Verdana card room is Mahjong.

Deep roots, rich history
Mahjong, roughly translated from Mandarin as “the game of sparrows,” a rummy-like game played with 144-tiles, traditionally made out of ivory or bone with a bamboo base. And while it was marketed as an ancient Chinese game, it was actually created in the mid- to late-1800s and brought to the American public in the early 1920s. 

One of the forces behind the introduction of mahjong was Joseph Babcock, an employee of Standard Oil. As he began traveling to China for business following the end of WWI, he was taken by the game and founded the Mah-Jongg Sales Company to import mahjong sets to the U.S. The game was first taken up by wealthy white women who could afford the pricey mahjong sets, and had the leisure time to play.

One of the game’s experts, Annelise Heinz, assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon, has written extensively on the assimilation of mahjong into American culture. In her recent book, Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture, she dives into the game’s history to understand how both Jewish American and Chinese American communities were built around the game during the 20th century.

Joseph Babcock playing Mahjong, Courtesy of Christopher Babcock Berg

After falling out of favor until the end of WWII and the migration of American families to the new suburbia, mahjong experienced a renaissance. In a May 2021 piece published in the Wall Street Journal, Heinz writes:

“Young mothers, in particular, forged American mahjong culture during the 1950s and 1960s. At a time of suburbanization and newfound upward mobility for many Jewish families, regular weekly mahjong games helped women to build female-focused networks. Unusually, these groups weren’t focused on volunteerism or children’s education but offered a chance for women simply to have fun together. Mahjong became a cultural touchstone for many who grew up in postwar Jewish American homes, along with the tile racks, coin purses and plates of maraschino-studded pineapple slices that often accompanied the game.”

Heinz refers to mahjong as a “remarkable game that has retained its core interest and beauty across time and distance,” adding that it offers “a rich and compelling topic of historical inquiry.” She explains that while most partner-oriented games create highly competitive scenarios where people are pitted against one another, mahjong has a completely different dynamic requiring players to cooperate and strategize together.  

Babcock’s book of rules. Angelo Bautista/TTBOOK One of the forces behind the introduction of mahjong

Another of the game’s thoughtful experts is journalist and cultural critic, Jeffrey Yang. In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio entitled “Picking Up the Pieces of Mahjong,” he chronicles his own love of the game through retelling the story of how he watched the moms in his Filipino family play. He reflects on the remarkable staying power of mahjong as a function of its ability to sustain multiple powerful identities. He says, “What’s unique about mahjong is that it’s not just one thing. It is a Chinese game, no doubt. It always will be. It’s also a Jewish game, an American game, a Filipino game, and so much more. Over a hundred years, in the hands of different players, it’s a game that has taken on so many different histories. And as long as we’re playing mahjong, that history is still being written.”

The magic of mahjong
The allure of mahjong is sensuous, social and intellectual. The feel and sound of the tiles clicking against one another is part of the physical experience of play. The time required to reset after each game (lasting about 15 minutes) offers players the opportunity to chat. And at the same time, the game has many of the same cognitive benefits as chess and bridge with its strategic complexity and demand for concentration. 

With building community at the core of our culture, we look forward to welcoming our Optima Verdana residents to the joys of gaming and gathering!

Alfresco Cooking in Optima Communities

Warm weather, fresh air, and BBQs are all defining aspects of the perfect summer. Across all of Optima’s communities, we provide residents with abundant outdoor space to celebrate living well, and to engage with each other around alfresco cooking and dining. 

Our passionate approach to design creates a linkage between architecture and nature throughout each of our communities, but it’s in Optima Kierland, Optima Sonoran Village, Optima Signature, Optima Lakeview and our latest project, Optima Verdana, where residents will find extensive amenity spaces that include outdoor kitchens and communal grills on their sky decks, and additional private grills in select terraces. 

For those who are fans of alfresco cooking and dining, here’s your chance to hone your grilling skills with the great American staple — the hotdog. Whether you’re a pro or just getting the hang of it all, here are two great recipes to get you up to the sky deck with your chef’s hat and tongs…

Chicago-style hot dog
Chicago-style hot dog

Chicago-Style Hot Dog

Since Optima’s roots are in Chicago, we have to highlight the classic Chicago-style hot dog. The best part about the Windy City staple is how easy it is to prepare! All you need is a hot grill and all of the delish garden-fresh ingredients! Find the recipe here

Sonoran hot dog
Sonoran hot dog

Sonoran Hot Dog

While Chicago is famously known for its unique take on the hot dog, Arizona propels the standard bite to a whole different level with the Sonoran hot dog. Like its standard cousin, the Sonoran is topped with tasty condiments, but what makes it unique is its bacon-wrapped exterior. Find the recipe here

The outdoor kitchens, communal grills and private grills are just some of the many ways we design our residential and communal spaces to invite the outdoors inside. Connecting to nature is an easy way to take some time and connect to yourself and to the environment around you.

Vertical Landscaping Around the World

Our passionate connection to nature is an essential piece of our identity at Optima and has been since our founding. This foundation has led to signature design elements in our properties, like our vertical landscaping system. From the vibrant greenery that extends beyond Optima Kierland Center, Optima Camelview Village and Optima Sonoran Village in Arizona to the introduction of vertical landscaping to the Midwest’s four seasons at Optima Verdana in Chicago, the lush green element is a cornerstone of our Optima communities. Given our innovation in this arena, it’s interesting to take a look at how vertical landscaping is used throughout the rest of the world:

The Via Verde project, Mexico City

Via Verde, Mexico City 

In 2016, Mexico City began planning an ambitious project to bring vibrant greenery into the city to reduce pollution and welcome additional natural allure to the area. The city came up with Via Verde, an initiative to cover more than 1,000 highway pillars with lush vertical landscaping. Because traffic in the city is some of the most congested in the world, the pillars not only serve as beneficial to the environment but also as works of natural art for residents.  

The vertical landscaping at One Central Park, Sydney

One Central Park, Sydney

Completed in 2012, One Central Park was built as part of Sydney’s Central Park renewal project. The building is a dual high-rise with a height of more than 380 feet, but it is famously known for its vertical landscaping designed by its architects, Foster and Partners, Ateliers Jean Nouvel and PTW Architects. The vertical landscaping system was a collaboration between French botanist Patrick Blanc, the modern innovator of the green wall, and the architects. One Central Park is home to 350 different species, including both exotic and native verdure, and totaling over 85,000 plants that cascade more than meters down its facade.

The Rainforest Chandelier in EmQuartier, Bangkok

Rainforest Chandelier, EmQuartier, Bangkok

Designed by the American architecture firm Leeser Architecture, EmQuartier is a 2,700,000 square foot mall located in Bangkok, Thailand. The innovative design that makes up the grand retail hub features restaurants, offices, event halls, and at its heart, an open-air atrium. In the atrium’s core, an unprecedented 337-foot chandelier hangs with exotic plants spilling from its sides. Patrick Blac – who also inspired One Central Park’s vertical landscaping – not only designed the ellipse-shaped Rainforest Chandelier for EmQuartier but also included two garden areas and a fully landscaped bridge connecting the mall to other surrounding buildings. 

We couldn’t be more proud to have brought vertical landscaping to the Scottsdale and Chicago communities like many other projects have done across the globe, enriching communities and fostering a connection to nature found little elsewhere.

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Glencoe, IL





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