By Mark Venning
At a time when we seem to be building an increasing number of senior living communities, ranging from adult lifestyle condo concepts, to retirement residences, assisted living housing and other variations of older age based centres, one can be left asking how this fits into the broader concept of age-friendly community. The original intent of the report 2007 Age-friendly Cities Guide produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) included a section on housing options, making several recommendations that address, among other things, the issue of affordability and adaptable design.
One of the other key elements in this WHO masterpiece is respect and social inclusion, which also contains the promotion of
inter-generational interactions. Yet when
I look at this rash of construction for senior
living I wonder: how much are we inadvertently perpetuating social exclusion? There is obviously a market for all this building, some of it a little “upmarket” for everyday people, but the spirit
of age-friendly design asks for much more from us as a community.
People do want options, reflective of a wider range of views on how they to want to live in later life. A new narrative must frame how communities are to be designed, while considering specific incremental life stage needs of older people, alongside the shared needs of all generations – remembering that positive social interaction is a major contributor to the healthier lives of all generations. By 2030, when the early millennials start turning 50, will they look at the construction options of this early century as serving their needs in the same way as todays’ seniors market?
The evolution of cities is every generation’s project – function, form, flow and the fabric of human interaction. Over the next fifteen years, the percentage of persons older than 65 will be significantly higher and thus the need to adapt the urban agenda to a workable inter-generational model for an aging population is a key opportunity.
In a quest for connexion, there is a hope-inspired trend emerging that integrates into this building boon – the development of urban ‘intergenerational community hubs” or “zones”. In the UK, the Oxford Institute for Population Ageing posted a blog in August 2015, titled “Intergenerational Contact Zones- What and Why?” which is a very good start for understanding this trend. It truly supports the WHO Age-friendly initiative.
Where else but in Vancouver BC would you find a wonderful Canadian example of this trend – the Frog Hollow Community Intergenerational Hub. And last month, there was a feature story in Metro News about a Greater Toronto Area collaboration between a 27year-old design student from OCAD and his 67year-old neighbour who together worked on a proposal to redevelop an underutilized elementary school in Vaughan which could turn into an intergenerational community hub. Other examples exist, but this is enough to make the point.
Now, here is a hometown opportunity. The Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, based in Oakville, is uniquely positioned, with its “possibility making” approach, to further promote this age-friendly quest for connexion as it already is by its very nature, part of a true intergenerational contact zone. Sheridan College is home to a young creative population of students who can be easily encouraged to join this conversation on designing a stronger age-friendly community.
Further still, I would encourage my fellow members of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research Business of Aging Global Network to stimulate interest in this topic by having a facilitated discussion at a future meeting where students join us to explore the options for the future of housing and community design – 2030 style. Perhaps together, we could the re-phrase this as designing “age-inclusive community”.
Mark Venning works with not-for-profit and business leaders, providing presentations, research and advisory services on the Business & Social Aspects of Aging Demographics – and 1:1 with business executives “leaving the corporate crow’s nest” to explore Entrepreneurship in Later Life. www.changerangers.com