Last week, we came a step closer to realising our neighbourhoods of the future.
Creating living spaces fit for a world in which, by 2050, the number of those aged 80+ is expected to triple, is a challenge we fully embrace.
But 80% of the homes that we will be living in by 2050 are already built, and 97% of older adults in the US alone are ageing in place. So, what standards will developers, product designers and legislators rely on to ensure our neighbourhoods of the future are fit for purpose?
Standards that ensure our older selves can access age-friendly housing within multigenerational neighbourhoods where residents can socialise, realise common values and a level of social control?
It Doesn't Exist Already!?
On Wednesday 27th May, we united a multi-disciplinary group of experts and thought leaders to meet this challenge.
Over 600 registered for our 6th Agile Ageing Congress which, this year, focused on the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) approach to help create these new standards.
Private, public and third sector voices united across nations and time zones to share knowledge, inspire, and help pioneer a new standard for ageing.
We realise of course that this is a huge societal challenge with many moving parts, as reflected by the scope of our agenda. This month’s AAA News goes to the heart of the matter, focussing on a core element that has a fundamental part to play in establishing these standards - design.
Paul Priestman, Chairman of design agency PriestmanGoode expressed shock that a standard doesn't already exist. To have it would be, in his words, “a benchmark for living”. Not just for one section of society, but for everyone.
Paul cited PriestmanGoode’s concept of 'Walklines' – imagine a tramless tramline – mapping cyclist and pedestrian friendly routes to encourage walking through cities as part of the public transport infrastructure. Ironically, COVID 19 may have fast-tracked this concept as several cities are looking to keep centres free of traffic for the benefit of people.
“Design is about understanding the problems. And making something better.”
Paul Priestman, Priestman Goode
Places that legislate for better living is without doubt a place to begin.
Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design Royal College of Art believes that “many older people are disabled by the design of the environment around them”. And, if you want successful neighbourhoods, then you need to put the building blocks in place and design is essential to that.
He cited a London research team who, when asked to give recommendations to the WHO on Age Friendly Neighbourhoods said that “neighbourhood is a thing to be achieved not a place to start”. It will take time, but much longer without a clear roadmap.
Tama Duffy Day, a Principal at global design and architecture firm, Gensler highlighted the fact that segregation of age groups in six US states has led to over half of COVID fatalities relating to care facilities. This can't continue.
In the “Boomtown” communities proposed by Gensler, due consideration is given to physical architecture, social and economics and policy together. Older adults are treated equally in age-friendly communities built to address several critical needs - work, accessible living spaces, retail, health, and social interaction.
After sharing the considerable progress made in his district around ageing, Paul McGarry, Assistant Director of Greater Manchester Ageing Hub said that central and local Government need to be a central part of this conversation. Standards like these can help us shift public sector behaviour, link their agenda to the green agenda and shift ageism.
Esther Greenhouse, Strategic Director, TC Age-Friendly Centre for Excellence, and Industry Scholar at Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures admitted there are some hard truths with design.
It often fails to consider the people who will use the buildings. Even worse, built environments often tend to have a negative impact on those using them.
“What many don't realise is the built environment always has an impact on people's behaviour.”
Esther Greenhouse, TC Age-Friendly Centre for Excellence
The solution is enabling design that considers accessibility and multi-functionality. It also needs data that acknowledges the diversity of users, because often the informing design is for the average height male, between 20-40. Much more needs to be done.
Finally, Paul Smith, Director at Foundations - specialists in home improvement and adaptation services - asked the question “Are current products made to adapt homes for older adults ageing in place too disposable; too undesirable?”
If a product is attractive enough to be fitted before it is needed, and not removed once the immediate user moves on, then you have good design that will save money by avoiding repeated installation and removal.
If products are designed for all, built for the long term, and made to make life more joyful, then product design for ageing may have turned a corner.
Paul Smith, Foundations
Visit www.agileageing.org to learn more about this event. Until next month, be sure to follow us on Twitter as we share more of the progress made toward making this ‘benchmark for living’ a reality. Follow the conversation on Twitter using #agileageing.
Image used with permission. Copyright: Romolo Tavani