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Is it Really Possible to Design for Everyone?

Paul McGarry, Assistant Director, Greater Manchester Ageing Hub, makes a strong case for including local government in the discussions around and development of an ISO standard for multigenerational neighbourhoods. As Paul says, local governments are major policy and economic players in this area. For example, Greater Manchester spends around £6b on housing and health related areas that impact on the lives of older adults. He says the ISO development needs to work with a range of regional stakeholders to ensure that all the ideas do not come from the traditional centres around the South East of England.

Laying down a devolution gauntlet

Paul noted that we need to take into account the super-structures in which design takes place. By way of example he cited Finland, where local governments own much of the land in and around the cities. This gives them tremendous opportunities to be able to plan and develop bespoke housing and neighbourhoods that are driven by public interest – not necessarily commercial interest.
In summary Paul welcomes the development of an ISO standard, which he says, needs to address the following challenges:

  • Will it reverse the trend towards age-segregation?
  • Will it address issues of inequalities in society?
  • Will it address the ‘deficits of ageing’ discourse that frames ageing as a negative experience?
  • Will it shift the public sector agenda?

And critically, Paul says we need to be honest about the limits of inclusive design – is it really possible to design for everyone?

Sharing best practice

Tama Duffy Day, Principal at global design and architecture firm, Gensler said that segregation of age groups in six US states has led to over half of COVID fatalities relating to care facilities. This, she said, cannot continue.

“What one of us learns has the potential to benefit us all. If we’ve learned nothing else during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that across the globe we are connected in meaningful, powerful ways that usually go unnoticed.“

Inventing BoomTown

Tama introduced the concept of “BoomTown”, a new community model for all ages. “Our goal is to implement transformative solutions for all people within existing urban communities. The built environment must be planned and developed to support interactions across generations, cultures, and socioeconomic groups. Our new reality during the pandemic means we are witnessing some interesting developments on this front.

For example, in China, the country with the world’s largest population of older people, we are emphasizing outdoor gathering spaces, transportation hubs, mixed-use developments, and affordable housing. The framework has allowed us to be more intentional in how we lead project work. It also allows us to share the strategy with more of our colleagues so others can use the framework to test locally and report their own learnings.

When scaling this work anywhere around the world, our strategies almost automatically converge with a need for robust international standards to make them operational and replicable. This ISO standard could revolutionize the design of communities, at both the micro and macro levels, leading to fundamental improvements that will empower ageing populations to extend independence and embrace longevity." (Read more from Tama here)

Paul Smith, Director, Foundations, makes a strong argument that the way we currently see home adaptions is very short-sighted and (paradoxically) both functional and disposable. He gave an example of a standard grab rail which costs around £1 to buy – but £25 to fit. Moreover, people will often remove them if, for example, their health improves and they feel they no longer need them – because they are not seen as attractive (incurring another £25 to remove them). But then will often need to get them re-fitted once their health deteriorates (once again costing £25). This is because there is a perception that this kit is cheap, disposable and not really there for the long term. Hence it is not really something that we should build into homes for the future.

Designing for the long term

Paul says we need a better way to think about assistive devices that are more attractive, consumer-driven and user-friendly. These should be aimed at the mainstream of society – not separating off a group based on a deficit model of ageing. Paul concluded by saying that an ISO standard would set out and encourage a way of thinking about how we can design for the long term, to make life easier and more joyful. (Hear more from Paul here)

Watch video of these presentations at www.agileageing.org. Follow this link to find out what others spoke about. Watch this space, as we continue publishing editorial summaries and videos from the AAA ISO event this week.

Image by image by booblgum.