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Q&A with Julia Park

Head of housing research at Levitt Bernstein and one of the authors of the 2009 HAPPI report on housing the older generation, Park has co-authored a new state of the nation book, Age-Friendly Housing. How far have we come in the past 10 years?

Didn’t the HAPPI report set the bar for housing design? Or do we still have a lot to learn?

There have been four HAPPI reports but only the 2009 one focused on design; so in a way this book is the latest word on housing for the older generation in the UK. We’ve really moved on – when we wrote the first report all the exemplars we referenced were in Europe.

So is housing for older people finally embedded as a concept with architects?

Yes; but what interests me most is that it’s finally more embedded with client developers. Housing for older people is a relatively new concept. Really, sheltered housing started in the 1970s with housing associations; the private sector joined in the 1980s. The later Extra Care Housing initiative raised quality a bit; but the HAPPI report was a real wake-up call to designers.

And what about lifetime homes?

Interesting concept, terrible name. The bigger issue is whether people want to live in the same home all their lives, given a lifetime’s changing needs. An age-friendly home is less spatially didactic and appeals to all generations with open-plan living, more light etc. It shouldn’t be either/or. I can’t see baby boomers – wealthier, more discerning and more vocal – settling for second-rate.

You showcase a lot of age-friendly housing in the book. Any favourites?

That’s hard – there’s a huge range of aspirations depending on age – but 93% of older people still choose to live in their own homes. So when the time comes for assisted housing, I’d like to see plenty of options – which means choosing how and where we live and with whom. So I like Barnet’s New Ground 25-unit co-housing for older women by PTE Architects, where the residents played a big role in the design. There’s huge potential for self-organised groups to come together and build.

How do you incentivise this?

It’s difficult. The Planning Use Classes don’t help, with C2 ‘Institutional’ and C3 ‘Housing’ subjecting all to demands that don’t apply to older living. That’s mainly housing contributions but goes down to details like having to provide bike parking. More nuanced planning classification is needed. Financial incentives to encourage elderly to free up homes for families would help, but Help to Buy is getting the funds instead.

Your big idea for age-friendly housing?

Integration not segregation! The needs of older people should be part of larger developments. Genuine inter-generational mixed tenure is important to older people who wish to stay connected with their families and wider neighbourhoods. Who wouldn’t?


 

 

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