AAA™ In the News December 2019 - Can we design agile societies?

Design impacts almost every aspect of our lives, from the algorithms serving content we're sure to like to the new cycle lanes inspiring more of us to ride to work.

As societies around the world find their populations living longer, more are having to find new ways to rethink how their cities, streets and buildings are designed to ensure they best serve their residents.

This month's news review focuses on some of those design-led solutions, including playgrounds for older adults and the return of an idea dating back to the 10th century.


We begin with this piece from the BBC's new Generation Project, which examines major trends in ageing from around the world.

It explores the increasing adoption of China's approach to designing public spaces which encourage older adults to keep fit, revealing that; “Cities including London, Berlin and Toronto [now] all have dedicated senior playgrounds”.

Apparently, researchers from around the world are increasingly inspired by Chinese parks filled with walking trails and machines tailored for adults, rather than ‘basketball hoops or baseball fields’.

Over in Canada, by fitting machines focusing on common old age issues like balance and dexterity, “Delta’s Lion Wellness Park has increased exercise rates among local elderly residents... [and the approach] has been replicated in 18 other locations around British Columbia”.

It’s clear that no matter our age, we never lose the joy of the playtime.

If you want to learn more about China’s response to its ageing population, you can read Ian Spero's article 'A Crèche for Chinese Babyboomers', where he explains their drive to reduce pollution while improving the lives of older adults.

History in the Making

Back in the UK, the idea of alms-houses – a type of social housing dating back to the 10th century - was back in the press after Ken Worpole, an academic and writer on architecture, planning and social policy, urged policy makers and planners to “back radical plans to promote integration”.

Originally built for individuals who could not afford to live by themselves, Ken has been involved in helping design a new kind of alms-house in Bermondsey, South London for the United St Saviour’s charity.

Ken explains; “The project seeks to actively retain longstanding entanglement of residents with the life of the neighbourhood, old friendships, local parks, libraries, shops and social activities. It is open to the world and still part of everyday life”.

Crucially, the project is still based in the city. According to Stephen Witherford, from the project’s architects Witherford Watson Mann, “At the moment, older people tend to be moved to the margins of towns and cities, dislocating them from communities. Many die a social death before physical ailments kick in”.

Not everyone can, or perhaps wants to age in their family home, so to see new projects like this, considering both older adults' physical, emotional and societal needs makes us excited to see what other solutions planners have in store.

Generation Rent

Design doesn't just have to be on a large scale however, it can be small changes that address specific needs. 

Our next article argues that by making small changes to their homes, landlords can make a big difference to their property.

'Generation rent' probably brings to mind millennials unable to get on the property ladder, but writing for the National Landlords Association, Heather Scotcher, Senior Programmes Manager for Homes, at Ageing Better cast it in a new light.

“Today”, writes Heather, “there are around 500,000 older people living in rented accommodation in England, and this figure is rising”.

The implication for landlords is clear. If they want to keep those tenants, they have to make their homes suited to their changing needs.

With only 7% of UK homes meeting basic accessibility standards, many people don't think about making changes to their home until after a fall or a bereavement. But Heather believes making proactive changes can be a long-term investment for landlords. If the property is appealing to one older adult, it will attract future tenants too.

Until enough new homes are built with older people's needs in mind, then future-proofing the ones we do have is essential.

And finally

What other stories caught our eye from the world of ageing this month?

We start with this very modern story, a call from Bhaskar Sunkara, founding editor of Jacobin magazine, to end the trend of millennials using the phrase ‘OK Boomer’ to dismiss perceived condescension online from older users.

Though it may seem trivial, Bhaskar argues that it blames the wrong people for millennials' frustrations at their perceived lack of options in life and it ignores the fact that many older workers and retirees are struggling to survive. That’s not OK.

If millennials are feeling let down by previous generations, they may take some inspiration from the “arrestables” - older adults happy to risk being arrested while protesting to help protect the environment for future generations. According to this article, they are the perfect protestors - experienced, less likely to be dragged away by police and not worried about damaging their CV. March on. 

Respect can go both ways though, and this was brought to life by none other than Jane Fonda, who aged 81 has been inspired by 16-year-old campaigner Greta Thunberg to start her own movement - Fire Drill Friday, marching on the US Capitol for food justice, agriculture and a green new deal. A good way to keep fit.

And finally, as Christmas isn't that far away we wanted to end with this new advert from online clothing retailer Zolando, who focus on the joy of generations coming together at Christmas for a good old knees up. Perfect way to work off the mince pies.

That’s it for this year, enjoy your festive break and we'll be back in the new year for more great stories and news.

Until then, be sure to follow us on Twitter and #StayAgile!

Image used with permission. Copyright Dose Media via Unsplash.