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Drop stereotypes of ageing, say design guide authors

Stephen Cousins

Urban design playbook being rolled out across Greater Manchester calls for ‘culture shift’ to overcome outdated attitudes towards ageing

Speculative designs for an age-friendly, intergenerational community featured in A Design for Life guide.
Speculative designs for an age-friendly, intergenerational community featured in A Design for Life guide. Credit: Pozzoni Architecture

Architects and urbanists are being urged to reject stereotypes about older people, in particular the idea that ageing is a ‘problem’ that needs fixing, by the authors of a new design guide being applied to development in Greater Manchester.

A Design For Life: Urban practices for an age-friendly city was developed by Dr Mark Hammond, senior lecturer at Manchester School of Architecture, and Nigel Saunders, director of Pozzoni Architecture, with contributions from practitioners and academics in Greater Manchester.

It was created alongside a three-year framework for designing age-friendly homes in Greater Manchester, currently being implemented by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which covers the 10 councils of the region.

Dr Hammond says: ‘We must recognise that, as a society, ageism remains widespread. Older people are often seen and portrayed as uncreative, unproductive, grumpy, or burdensome, and therefore less worthy of our time or consideration. Architects have a duty to push back on this and to play a critical role in defining what the city means for a growing, diverse, and changing older population.’

According to the guide, the level of segregation between those aged 18-34 and over 65’s in major UK cities has doubled in the last 25 years and without intervention ‘there is no reason to believe this trend will reverse’.

In fact it will likely be exacerbated by growth in the proportion of people aged 65 and over in the UK, forecast to rise from 18% in 2018 to 24% by 2043, according to figures from the UN.

The design guide argues for a range of options for older people, regardless of income, tenure or location, to ensure they are not marginalised by urban policies, developments and designs. A broader approach, it says, should acknowledge that the current focus on developing a limited volume of specialist housing is insufficient to address the challenge at hand.

Among the changing lifestyle trends and housing needs of people in later life is an increase in those getting divorced or choosing to live alone, said Dr Hammond: ‘Some in this group experience real hardship as a result of lower financial capabilities, whereas others become free to find new roles and environments through which they can grow and foster new social relationships. For many people this means moving back into the city centre.’

  • Speculative designs for an age-friendly, intergenerational community featured in A Design for Life guide.
    Speculative designs for an age-friendly, intergenerational community featured in A Design for Life guide. Credit: Pozzoni Architecture
  • Village 135 in Wythenshawe, Manchester.
    Village 135 in Wythenshawe, Manchester. Credit: Pozzoni Architecture

Another growing phenomenon is ‘kangaroo’ parents – older adults whose children remain at home because they are priced out of the housing market. ‘This has significant implications for older people who might otherwise be prevented from moving to more appropriate or desirable accommodation as they grow older,’ said Dr Hammond. The market for single family intergenerational homes in the UK is small, but a great example abroad is Choy House in New York, he added.

The authors call for the age-inclusive design of green spaces, public realm and social infrastructure, also making sure that support is in place for people who need extra assistance to adapt, modernise and maintain their existing homes.

A four-point manifesto for change demands that planners, developers and designers stop thinking about older people as a ‘problem’ or a ‘timebomb’, but instead think of them as citizens. It calls for recognition that older people are diverse and want different things from their homes and communities, with age being just one facet of identities alongside things like gender, ethnicity, sexuality and religion.

Furthermore, the guide urges designers and decision makers to ‘put the work in, do the research and engage directly with the older people who live in our towns and cities’.

According to Dr Hammond, best practice examples of age-friendly environments factored in older people’s creative contributions during design development, with one example in the UK being New Ground older women’s cohousing community in Barnet.

‘The scheme was the product of nearly 20 years’ effort by a dedicated group of older people who wanted a way of living the existing market couldn’t provide,’ said Dr Hammond. ‘It managed to find a great balance between creating opportunities for social relationships to blossom within their community, while still looking outwards to the community they are a part of.’

The design guide features a series of local, national and international case studies used to support its ideas.


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