Seven trends that will better integrate ageing Australians into their communities

The recent slower growth in Australia’s population will boost the size of our ageing communities, but there are emerging housing and planning solutions that will better integrate older Australians into our cities, helping to solve the population pyramid problem.

Craig Christensen, Queensland principal at award-winning urban planning and design practice Hatch RobertsDay, says: “Australia’s immigration shutdown over the last few months will result in 1.1 million fewer people by 2031 than previously forecasted. While this will result in a larger proportion of older Australians, it’s encouraging to see over-55s living rapidly evolving to enable older Australians to live in smaller dwellings while enjoying more integrated and independent lives through accessible and inclusive housing, amenities, infrastructure and support.

“In fact, over-55s living has evolved to the point that it has become an attractive model for Australia’s population overall. There is a nexus between the housing needs of an individual working from home and those looking to scale back their careers, and emerging trends help people downsize successfully while still living a full life. This is as much about housing as to how we design our neighbourhoods – maintaining a house is expensive and demanding.”

Hatch RobertsDay reveals living trends that will help our ageing population integrate independently into their communities:

1. Mixed-use developments and apartment buildings
Integrating over-55s housing more closely with the rest of the community will help older Australians avoid isolation and loneliness and maintain their independence longer. An emerging trend is the incorporation of over-55s and aged care living in major mixed-use master planned communities. For instance, a land parcel in the mixed-use Murdoch Health and Knowledge Precinct in Perth is being developed into aged care facilities, a Medihotel, residential, commercial, medical and office facilities. The new Ripley Town Centre in the master planned community southwest of Brisbane is designed to include residential lots, retail space, an underground train station, hospitality venues, community spaces and a hospital, senior living and aged care.

Expect to also see the development of new buildings where a few floors are dedicated to over-55s living.

Read more: Creating connected communities

 2. Multigenerational housing
Research reveals one in five Australians live in a multigenerational household, and 583,440 properties in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane alone could build an additional self-contained unit of at least 60sqm. Expect to see a growing trend whereby grandparents move into a granny flat or tiny house on their property – or a self-contained floor of the main house – while kids move into the main house with their families.

3. Universal housing design
Research reveals that 83 per cent of Australians over 60 want to live and age in their own homes. Building more ‘liveable’ housing – with the inclusion of more accessible doorways and stairs, grab rails and step-free entrances – could reduce the need for care and can promote greater independence in older Australians. If 20 per cent of new homes in Australia included universal housing design, the Australian health system could save up to $54 million per annum. Craig predicts that we will see better residential designs that meet the needs of people during all life stages, but which particularly helps the older population ‘age in place’.

Read more: How we can create neighbourhoods to support ageing in place

4. Aged living above shopping centres or in CBDs
Mobility is an important part of over-55s living, as it helps them live independently while integrating with the local community.

Expect to see an emerging trend whereby retirement units are built above shopping centres, enabling residents to mingle with the community and have much of their needs met without help while ensuring the shops remain busy during off-peak times.

Increasing numbers of over-55s will soon be living in CBD and central areas, allowing them to be within easy walking distance to theatres, major shopping precincts, high-quality restaurants, and a plethora of health facilities.

5. The rise of urban gardens
Expect to see further growth in the number of urban community gardens. These are mentally and physically beneficial for older residents who live in garden-free housing and enables them to teach gardening and horticulture to younger generations. Research shows that 58 per cent of Australians experience an improvement in their mood when gardening and studies have found that spending time in natural surroundings can decrease anxiety and lower cortisol levels, thus reducing stress.

6. Age-friendly precincts
Mr Christensen predicts a growth in age-agnostic infrastructure, amenities and services in local communities. Some examples are public transport that is more accessible, widespread street furniture for pausing and resting and public facilities (especially toilets), parklets and piazzas, and levelled, shaded and wider footpaths, which can encourage older Australians to leave their homes and feel safe to mingle in their community. An example is the 2020-2024 Age-Friendly City Plan in Canberra, which will eliminate barriers for over-65s looking to stay active, socially connected to the community and access health services easier.

Read more: The emotional aspects of moving house in retirement

7. Age-friendly businesses
While many town and neighbourhood centres are seeing revitalisation, the abundance of youth-focused retail and entertainment is missing the opportunity to serve one of our biggest markets, older Australians. For example, we can encourage food and beverage venues to undertake fit-outs that reduce reflected noise and provide comfortable seating, or entertainment venues that are accessible, themed and programmed for older tastes.

What do you think of these ideas? Do you have any other suggestions?

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Written by Craig Christensen