On a ridiculously beautiful day in our nation’s capital—seriously, 75 degree sunshine in August: Obscene!—a group of appointed representatives convened to give their full attention to 100-plus documents, each of which purported to enlighten and educate the masses for the betterment of society.

Ah, democracy in action.

As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy sitting on panels and juries charged with separating the wheat from the chaff in order to fill out a conference program or determine award-worthy work. I’ve gotten pretty good at sniffing out a sales pitch from 30 paces, seeing right through slick prose and buzzword-loaded puffery, and scrutinizing speaker and firm bios to unearth real expertise.

What brought me to D.C. last week was session selection for the 2014 Environments for Aging (EFA) Conference (May 3-6, Anaheim, Calif.). The upcoming fall issue of Environments for Aging magazine will be my first at its helm, and while I attended the 2013 EFA Conference, I played no personal part in choosing the sessions there. That was a great program, and I was eager to serve as a juror this time around.

As always, The Center for Health Design, working with the conference team for EFA’s parent company, Vendome Group, collected all the session proposals and assembled a jury of seasoned architects, designers, providers, educators, and association leaders. Many of the jurors have judged in the past, and the first thing one of them said during the end-of-judging wrap-up was: “There was a very high caliber of presentations this year.” Very true. Other jurors agreed that the wheat-to-chaff ratio was quite high, and I’m really impressed with the program that emerged.

Certainly the need for more (and different) senior housing and healthcare options needs no justification by now—the statistics are staggering and can be found all over the place. So there’s a lot of potential material to cover at EFA, and plenty of qualified architects, designers, and facilities to share their wisdom.

And there’s still so much to figure out. Another juror noted the number of proposals that dealt with aging in place, a white-hot trend and well-documented desire of the boomer generation. But how exactly will these efforts develop alongside healthcare reform and current practices in senior healthcare facilities? The number of sessions that included a student element was a pleasant surprise—it’s heartening to see evidence of growing interest in serving this population. But what was missing, the jurors agreed, was a larger variety of proposals featuring alternative care/housing models. Nor were there as many case studies of affordable options as we’d hoped to see. While it doesn’t mean these projects don’t exist—one architect assured the group that exciting projects in adult day care and other alternative models are coming, but aren’t quite ready for prime time—it was enough to give us pause. And it prompted a certain member of the press (that would be me) to make a mental note to seek out more such projects for coverage.

Keep an eye on EnvironmentsforAging.com for more details as the 2014 program takes shape officially over the next couple of months. And let me know what kinds of projects you’re seeing in this market that really speak to the future.