As each day in quarantine rolls insidiously into the next, we worry about the impact of social isolation on older members of society, especially our friends and loved ones.
Long before COVID 19 reared its ugly head, social networks had created a pandemic of loneliness. When life eventually returns to some semblance of normality it is likely we will want our loved ones closer to us under our own care and protection.
Will this stimulate demand for more inventive and inclusive housing schemes? I am hoping we will see more age-friendly housing within multigenerational neighbourhoods where residents can socialise, realise common values and a level of social control.
Realistically this is not going to happen at any scale until we can agree on what best practice looks like. And to do this we need quantifiable evidence to validate the health/care benefits and socioeconomic impact of multi-generational environments.
And now for some good news.
The International Organization for Standardization see development of an ISO framework for Multigenerational Neighbourhoods and communities as a priority area for standardisation.
AAA is giving stakeholders the opportunity to shape and eventually cocreate this important new standards framework. May 27th, a who's who of cross-sector experts and thought leaders will participate in a virtual workshop. You can use the link below to see who's already on board, and how you might get involved too.
What does good look like?
Ultimately our neighbourhoods of the future could deliver trillions of £’s in value. What’s missing is a commonly agreed view of “what good looks like”, making it hard for regional and local government, developers, and procurers of related products and services, to plan with any degree of confidence.
At the same time it can be difficult for suppliers to achieve scale when they continuously have to demonstrate the quality of their offering. The quicker we can create and promote widely accepted best practice, the more confidence will increase and the faster the market will grow.
ISO is widely regarded as the Gold Standard, embodying the essential principles of global openness and transparency, consensus and technical coherence. Providing world-class specifications for products, services and systems to ensure quality, safety and efficiency. Working together to inform development of an ISO standards framework for Multigenerational Neighbourhoods will boost the creation of new markets, while driving sustainable and inclusive development across industries and nations.
Building upon existing work, including the World Health Organization’s Housing & Health guidelines, other ISO work streams and the AAA’s Neighbourhoods of the Future, our proposal will reflect age-friendliness in terms of psychosocial and physical requirements, alongside attitudinal and cultural values. In so doing, we aim to foster older adults’ dignity and worth as valued members of a multigenerational society.
Business as usual is not good enough
Many of the sector experts and thought leaders I have been speaking with during lockdown are frustrated by the amount of time they are having to spend “firefighting”. Their respective businesses are naturally concerned about employee’ wellbeing and cash flow. While these are clearly essential priorities, the stakeholders already signed up to this project have a burning desire to go beyond business as usual when society finally gets back on track.
I see this project as a collaborative opportunity to go beyond theory, to practice what we are preaching, and in so doing help make a brighter future for our older selves. If we cocreate a framework and a voluntary code of conduct, it will be so much easier to overcome barriers and inertia. If you are interested in getting involved, follow the registration link below.
In the meantime, to set the scene for May 27th, here is a snapshot of some of the farsighted thinking that will inform our investigation:
Come together / Stephanie K. Firestone, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor, Health & Age-friendly Communities, AARP International
“A multigenerational approach to housing provides an important perspective. Millennials and Boomers prioritize similar living environments, namely, mixed-use communities that are walkable, livable and facilitate social engagement. We are also witnessing the increasing value of intergenerational engagement in the form of mentor/mentee relationships, mutual learning, and companionship. Closer and more regular intergenerational interactions can also lead to a change in the perception of older people from largely a burden, to a renewed appreciation. Thus, multigenerational communities can help to catalyse a cultural shift in the narrative around ageing.
This can uncover opportunities to create alternative housing options that meet a greater diversity of community members' needs and desires.“
Housing for later life must be affordable / Lord Richard Best, Chair, Affordable Housing Commission
“Parliament’s all-party group on Housing and Care for Older People forecasts another 1.5m households over pension age in the private rent sector (PRS) in about 25 years from now. Of these it is estimated that 630,000 will have to move out – or government will have to increase very substantially Housing Benefit payments. To head off this future crisis for PRS tenants, the current window of opportunity could be used to build more homes for later life. Delivering affordable housing specifically for older people has special value: those who downsize from family properties release much-needed housing for the next generation. A 21st century version of the extensive sheltered housing programme of times past would achieve “two for one”, i.e. both the release of under-occupied properties not least Council houses for families at modest rents and also create more suitable, accessible, energy-efficient, affordable homes for older people. It will also tackle problems of fuel poverty and loneliness for older people.”
One size does not fit all / Paul Quinn Director of Regeneration Clarion Housing (Europe’s largest developer of social housing)
“UK homes come in a “one size fits all” typology. Most are designed and delivered by a very small number of large house builders and developers, who have honed and shaped their product over decades to meet and even define a market need. Unfortunately, human needs do not fit such neat, fixed parameters. People require homes in multigenerational neighbourhoods, which can adapt to their changing needs – family size, mobility, health, age, and lifestyle. This project constitutes an opportunity for like-minded stakeholders to get together and break the tyranny of uniformity and design and build homes and neighbourhoods where adaptation and addressing changing needs are core principles. People will be able to live longer in their own homes, in environments designed to encourage social interaction and mobility, potentially until end of life.
There have been multiple examples of one-off homes designed for the needs of an ageing population or people suffering from dementia and their carers. There are few examples of those homes being built at scale or those technologies being retrofitted within existing homes (which will house the great majority of families and individuals for many decades to come). There are even fewer examples of whole neighbourhoods being designed with such principles at their heart. This project is an opportunity to co-create multiple examples of both – interconnected living test beds of good practice and design that will help to define the essence of best practice - at an unprecedented scale.“
Design for life / Jeremy Myerson: Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design Royal College of Art
"Design-led innovation can lighten the load of ageing. People facing greater longevity should be able to look forward to – “years full of life rather than life full of years”. While we should not ignore the physical, sensory and cognitive impairments that come to us all eventually. We must recognise that many older people are disabled by the design of the environment around them, rather than intrinsically disabled. Designers have a responsibility to reimagine settings, products, systems and services that will enhance the experience of later life.
Retirement to rural areas with poor public transport exacerbates mobility problems for older people without access to a car. Public spaces in neighbourhoods and cities that lack social amenities such as seating, toilets and step-free access put up further barriers. The ‘New Old’ are tech savvy, mobile, often still in work, and simply won’t put up with clumsy plastic loo seats and excessively padded shoes any more. This is the rock ’n’ roll generation, they know all about design and they’re demanding more.”
Cognitive Homes of the future will be able to assess and manage our needs and desires in later life
In 2017 the Agile Ageing Alliance’s first Neighbourhoods of the Future white paper predicted ‘Cognitive Homes’ of the future will be able to assess and manage our needs and desires in later life.
Three years on, Frost & Sullivan’s Mega Trends 2020 claims: “Connectivity and Convergence of new technologies will unleash the full potential of IoT and the launch of multiple innovative applications that will change the way we live, communicate and conduct business.”
Collaborating in a spirit of open innovation / Faith la Grange: Director Regional & Local Government Microsoft
“The current COVID-19 pandemic is top of mind for everyone, and while we recognise that technology can never replace the human touch, there are times when that is not possible and health and social care in particular are areas where technology can make a real impact.
Looking to the future of multigenerational neighbourhoods, technology has the ability to help support and secure community bonds, many of which have been formed during the pandemic and to leave a lasting and very positive legacy to strengthen our communities. This is no longer a theory; it is now the day to day reality for many of us as we seek to sustain and build new relationships under very different circumstances.
As our confidence in technology grows, our ability to better understand what it can do for us is becoming clearer. As the sensors in our homes, phones, watches and other devices that we carry and wear become less expensive, more common and more capable, it’s no longer science-fiction to imagine a world in which everyone has access to a virtual doctor who can tell when you’re getting sick before you know you are – and refer you for help. Perhaps for the first time, we are ready to engage with this sort of new reality.
Robotics and augmented reality will also play a role in multigenerational neighbourhoods - autonomous delivery bots will help older adults live self-sufficient and independent lives longer by delivering medicine, groceries and other necessities right to their front door. They may also support parents in helping enrich their children’s learning from their own homes, enabling visits to places we can’t physically travel to.
Empowering every person on the planet to achieve more is Microsoft’s mission and we are passionate about using technology for everyone’s benefit. We anticipate helping more than 1bn people with disabilities around the world by enabling computers to hear, see and reason with impressive accuracy – capability which is already mature – and which supports every one of us as we go about our day to day lives.
Underpinning all of these innovations is data. This concept of an ISO framework could be extremely beneficial to our national, regional and local government customers and the citizens they serve as it helps set the parameters for how data about us and our communities should be used. It also needs to ensure that we all have the right digital skills to participate in these multigenerational neighbourhoods. We therefore look forward to contributing to the development of this important collaborative endeavour in a spirit of open innovation."
Interoperability is king / Mac MacLachlan, National Clinical Lead for Disability Services, HSE (Irish Health Service) & Co-Director, Assisting Living & Learning Institute, Maynooth University (Leading the SHAPES H2020 pilot project of which AAA is a partner) adds a note of caution:
“We have many different technologies available to older individuals and people with disabilities. Someone might have a hearing aid, a wheelchair, home sensors and perhaps a ‘smart’ pillbox - but they don’t necessarily all work together. We should be aiming to bring interoperable assistive technologies and connected health systems together seamlessly, in age-friendly housing within multigenerational communities”.
The future has not yet been written / The last word goes to Dr Tarsha Finney, Programme Lead, City Design, at the Royal College of Art:
“The ambition is to draw a broader stakeholder collective into a conversation about other possible futures for our older selves, creating actively engaged citizens, not passive consumers of mass-produced housing. We can all be involved in questioning what is possible, what we can share and who we can be together. The future has not yet been written. So, collectively we can make a difference.”
I had planned to stage our 6th annual AAA Congress at NatWest HQ in London in May, until social isolation became our new normal. Thankfully friends have rallied round and with the help of ISO, AARP and Microsoft we are going ahead online. Indeed, this change of format has allowed the workshop to become truly global. We are still working on the agenda, but the plan is to start at 10:00am BST in Australia, where we will hear from David Stevens: Managing Director Standards Wise International. Then move on to Beijing, where Professor Jianbing Liu: Director Service Engineering and Smart Health for Seniors Lab Beijing Academy for Science and Technology will offer a fresh perspective on age-friendly housing and multigenerational living in China. We also have Andrew Larpent: Chairman Commonwealth Association for the Ageing, who will make sure we don't forget to consider the developing world. I am aiming to round things off at 3.00pm after we have heard from our friends in the USA.
Follow this link to find out who else is participating and how you might get involved, and do help spread the word by sharing this article with colleagues.
Until next time stay safe and healthy.
Image and design Kevin Martin.