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Why Are We Systemically Supporting The Creation Of Class B Citizens?

In this session we ask how can policy radically accelerate the path of change

Stephanie K. Firestone, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor, Health & Age-friendly Communities at AARP International, gave a somewhat chilling overview of where we are today and the issues that have been exposed by the COVID-19 crisis. As she put it, "Countries like the United States and the UK have systemically supported the creation of Class B citizens: people of colour, immigrants and older adults, and we've done this in part by physically segregating people of different ages and backgrounds and then essentially disinvesting in the places where they live."

For Stephanie, this means building the foundations for a new more equitable system of services and supports. She would like to see regular engagement with people of all ages in many contexts of daily life, to help to combat age related stereotyping that is endemic to our societies. It also means rethinking planning and eliminating outdated zoning and other regulatory barriers to create living environments that facilitate engagement across the generations. Hence, Stephanie hopes that the ISO standards development process, we have been talking about in this series of articles, will generate commitments from built environment influencers to provide leadership on this issue. Stephanie also reiterated the support of AARP for this standard.

What works for older generations will work for everybody 

Richard Blyth, Head of Policy, Royal Town Planning Institute, began with a short overview of RTPI research, which has shown that medium density, mixed use and transit friendly settlements, encourage physical activity through life and continuously growing participation and social interaction into older age. Richard told us that what works for older generations will work for everybody!

However, he went on to acknowledge that despite, or perhaps because of UK government guidance on older adults published in 2019, planning policy in the UK is problematic as it continues to see older people's housing as a separate entity and does not talk about how we might create for multigenerational neighbourhoods. This, says Richard, is in part due to the fact that what drives planning policy in England is the number of planning permissions. Hence, there are calls for planners to evaluate the number of houses needed in different age categories and also different kinds of housing. 

Richard suggests we might have to look at how national and local governments can better deploy their resources to create multigenerational neighbourhoods. For example, Homes England, which is the government's housing regeneration and delivery agency, (See Victoria Leesam, Senior Investment Specialist at Homes England keynote here) could use their resources to spearhead housing development in this area. Richard concluded by revealing that RTPI is currently working on a new set of practice guidelines, in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Centre for Ageing Better. 

These new guidelines were most likely prompted by work AAA began with RICS in 2019, towards a Reference Framework for Age-friendly Housing.

Mairéad Anne Carroll, Associate Director, Residential Standards at RICS, said the challenge is to ensure that the new ISO standard is truly global and not just an extension of UK or European policies. According to Mairéad, RICS takes best practice from other countries and uses it to learn and improve their work. She says, we must engage with the widest possible range of stakeholders, including government bodies, public sector groups, consumer groups, legal experts, topic experts, etc. However, she noted that this process takes months or even years which could be problematic given the urgency of this issue. 

The new ISO standard must be truly global

On a more encouraging note, Mairéad sees the current COVID-19 crisis serving as a catalyst in challenging perceptions about how different generations can live together. Hence an ISO standard, or any kind of framework, could help capture that knowledge and also promote some fresh thinking in terms of how we can improve the communities that we already have. 

Nic Palmarini, Director, at the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing, was actually locked down in Boston at the time of our event. Like many of our US based speakers, Nic got up extra early to participate in the AAA ISO Leaders Forum, and he was certainly awake enough to get our Q&A channel and social media buzzing. 

Nic focussed on 3 main issues. First, that it is going to take a new kind of village to deliver the sorts of benefits that we can expect from multigenerational neighbourhoods. This, we were told, means radical social change.

We need to respect the diversity of older populations and ensure that we do not put everyone over a certain age into one basket. Hence, we also need to start thinking about designing for the older adults wider social networks, e.g. family, friends, carers, etc. Nic questioned whether multigenerational was the correct term when what we are doing is cross generational as it is built on the interactions between this generations. 

Knowledge will power new solutions

Nic’s second point, was that knowledge will power new solutions. But he asked - what does it mean to deal with data on older adults? This is particularly pertinent as we start to talk about smart homes and the possibility of AI/Machine Learning to unpack ever greater amounts of data. He even alluded to new forms of audio data that might be used to predict patterns of behaviour or health conditions. But all of this raises serious ethical issues that would need to be addressed in any new ISO standard. (see Karen Holden's talk on ethics) He called for a broader concept of data ethics relating to older adults. 

Personalisation to take priority over simplification

Last, but not least, Nic spoke about scalability and customization which he identified as key issues that need to be considered if the ISO standard is to be successful. He argues that these are not in tension with each other but need to be complementary. In the past, Nic said, people have tended to work on the concept of simplification but they forgot about personalisation. Hence, Nic calls for personalisation to take priority over simplification. We should aim to make things simple but without trying to make them too generic otherwise people will not want them.

Watch these presentations in full at www.agileageing.org. Next week we will conclude the editorial summaries and videos from the AAA ISO Leaders Forum and consider the way forward.