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We’ve built the wrong type of real estate, for the wrong type of reasons, with the wrong type of consequences

I asked Andrew Edkins, Director, Bartlett Real Estate Institute at UCL, what he thought about the idea of a new standard for multigenerational neighbourhoods and how should we be looking to shape the development work to ensure maximum impact?

Andrew began by reflecting on how the system generally works, calling for academics to move out of university and sector specific silos. This, he said, is essential if we are to understand the complexity of the issues we face today.

Time to disrupt university and sector specific silos

Identifying 3 key issues that underpin the need to rethink real estate, Andrew said there is:

i) the growing awareness of climate change and the realisation that our built environment has consequential costs for the natural environment, ii) the acceptance of accessibility and disability – which the London 2020 Paralympics helped to champion and iii) the Grenfell Tower disaster that exposed the problems in the way real estate has been built – as he said ‘we’ve built the wrong type of real estate, for the wrong type of reasons, with the wrong type of consequences’.

Andrew would like to see more evidence based practice. But, this does not mean that we need to continue drilling ever more deeply into our (increasingly) narrow areas of expertise – we do need to move towards greater cross-fertilisation of ideas. In terms of the ISO standard, Andrew would like to see:

  1. A section on definitions, to ensure we are all on the same page.
  2. A section dedicated to regulations and standards. In other words, the new standard needs to knit together existing standards rather than just add an extra one that everybody else is supposed to factor in.
  3. The ISO needs to address issues around business models and business practices. At the moment house builders will generally just design the easiest housing schemes they can and sell them to a public who seems content to buy them.
  4. There has been a shift away capital accumulation in real estate, e.g. build it, flog it, flip it, to more long term income generation activity created by the community. We need to build on this.
  5. Finally, an ISO standard has to be inclusive and participatory. Real estate should be with people, by the people and for people - not something that is thrown at the people.

Real estate should be with people, by the people and for people

Sarah Haywood, Managing Director Advanced Oxford and Executive Director, MedCity, has extensive experience in drawing together groups of organisations and/or individuals, who are not always comfortable working in collaboration, at least in the first instance.

Finding common ground and common language is an essential consideration, especially when it comes to innovation. Sarah says that we all too often think about innovation as a ‘push’ for new ideas. But she reflected that it might be as useful, or more useful, to think about the factors or needs that ‘pull’ innovation in to being. This means we need to ensure that the opinions and experiences of potential end users are built into any developments from the start.

Reimagining the pharmacy of the future

The community pharmacy would be a good starting point. Sarah has long been advocating the need to re-think the way healthcare is delivered and how neighbourhoods of the future might create opportunities for different parts of the healthcare system to play a more active role in the way that communities develop. She says the pharmacist is now expected to wear many hats: as caregiver, educator, business developer, researcher-and often as a stand-in for the GP. As a key member if the community where patients live, Sarah says the pharmacist is ideally placed to play a more prominent role promoting health and care to communities in the comfort of their own homes.

A strong advocate for standardisation, Sarah concluded by recommending that we think about the ‘market making opportunities’ that standards can help facilitate, and how this can be used to ‘pull’ great research from the academic base into impact for our ageing society.

Martin Hyde, Associate Professor in Gerontology, Centre for Innovative Ageing, Swansea University, addressed 5 key points about what he would like to see as a by-product of the current AAA and ISO collaboration. These were:

i) greater knowledge exchange, ii) more rigorous testing and evaluation of different initiatives or products in order to build a robust evidence base about best practice, iii) a focus on inequalities – both intragenerational and intergenerational, iv) meaningful engagement of older adults throughout the entire process of informing standards and v) greater international collaboration and discussion about what good looks like and to better understand how we can develop culturally sensitive standards whilst maintaining a commitment to the universal goals of improving health and well-being in later life.

Collaborative research to improve the lives of older adults around the world

Martin says the ISO standard could be of tremendous benefit for academics as it would give us a clear focus against which to develop research. Subsequently it would provide us with a common language and sets of goals against which we could design and develop research and test and trial different innovations and interventions. It would create an international space through which we could engage with colleagues in other countries to share knowledge and collaborate on research to improve the lives of older adults around the world. Finally it would give us an internationally recognised standard against which we could inform UK government policy goal of reducing inequalities in life expectancy and increasing healthy ageing healthy life expectancy by five years.

With special thanks to Martin Hyde who helped compile these summaries. If you missed any of the sessions follow this link to find out what others spoke about. You can also watch video and view the presentations at www.agileageing.org.