Retire the retirement village

We’re living longer and we’re healthier – our environment must change to reflect that.

Retire the retirement village

Rosemary Jean Kennedy, Queensland University of Technology and Laurie Buys, The University of Queensland

Retirement villages – walled, gated and separate seniors’ enclaves – have had their day. The word ‘retirement’ is redundant and engagement between people of all ages is high. That’s how participants in the Longevity By Design Challenge envisage life in Australia in 2050.

Their challenge was to identify ways to prepare and adapt Australian cities to capitalise on older Australians living longer, healthier and more productive lives. Their vision, outlined in this article, offers a positive contrast to much of the commentary on “ageing Australia”.

We have been repeatedly warned about a looming ‘crisis’ when by 2050 one in four Australians will be 65 or older. They have been portrayed as dependent non-contributors, unable to take care of themselves. This scenario of doom is based on underlying assumptions that everyone over 65 wants to, can or should stop any kind of productive contribution to Australia.

What if these assumptions are wrong?

The longevity bonus
Australians’ average life expectancy is well into our 80s. That represents a 30-year longevity ‘bonus’ since the Age Pension was introduced in 1909 when average life expectancy was 55.

Increases in the average life expectancy of Australian men and women since 1890. Australian Bureau of Statistics, CC BY

Now, older people are healthier, working for longer – whether paid, volunteering, flexible, part-time, full-time or launching start-ups – or are in learning programs. By 2030 all of the baby boomers will have turned 65. At this time Generation X will start their contribution to the expanding older cohort.

Australian society will be better positioned to navigate this future if we make the most of the significant opportunities baby boomers present. They are living much longer, want to remain productive and engaged throughout their adult lives, and have a valuable cache of knowledge and skills.

One way to support economic and social participation is to reconsider the factors – physical, regulatory and financial – that determine how our buildings, suburbs and streets are organised.

Conventional urban development models rely on short-term development finance. It delivers suburban cities of individual houses with a need for private transportation. For many households (not just seniors) distance and lack of mobility are barriers to participation, resulting in isolation and loneliness.

Making the most of life after 65
The Longevity by Design Challenge brought new perspectives to preparing and adapting Australian cities to capitalise on the ‘longevity’ phenomenon over coming decades. The challenge asked:

How do we best leverage the extra 30 years of life and unleash the social and economic potential of people 65+ to contribute to Australia’s prosperity?

In February 2020, 121 professionals (of all ages) from 60 built environment design and senior living organisations, along with several older people, took part in the challenge. They explored how baby boomers will change the landscape of living, learning, working and playing. Sixteen cross-disciplinary creative teams considered what longevity could look like in this new environment in which buildings and neighbourhoods are remade.

Multi-generational, cross-disciplinary teams at work on the Longevity by Design Challenge. The University of Queensland, Author provided

Good design begins with people. Together the participants concluded that designing for older people is actually “inclusive design”. Everyone wants the same things for a good life: autonomy and choice, purpose, family and friends, good health and financial security.

Teams were presented with one of three locations representing typical middle and outer suburbs. They were challenged to transform buildings and neighbourhoods to make the most of longevity opportunities.

The teams used principles of social and physical connectedness with the aim of increasing choices and improving circumstances for people at all stages of life. Key design priorities were ‘mix’ – of places, uses, people and generations – and ‘heart’, which placed people at the centre of the narrative.

Suggested approaches included:

  • building walkable neighbourhoods that reduce distances between homes and services
  • converting typical house blocks to ‘super blocks’ where multiple generations can live
  • adopting finance development models using long-term capital, rather than short-term debt, for greater financial and community returns.

The Longevity Urban CommunitY concept (LUCY) of the sort that might evolve using long-term equity. Clusters of multi-residential buildings with a mix of commercial and community uses at ground level form a network of pedestrian streets, parks and plazas. Housing design blends individual needs for privacy, and collective needs for community. Deicke Richards, Vee Design, Pradella Property Ventures, N Whichelow, Condev Construction and Bolton Clarke. Images: Peter Richards, Deicke Richards, Author provided

Neighbourhoods could be retrofitted over 30 years. This would require changes to local government planning codes and innovations by the finance sector.

Other teams designed interconnected environments using links between natural, built and technological assets. They designed spaces to enable people over 65 to continue to make creative and productive contributions.

By creating inclusive infrastructure, such as closely connected living and learning ‘micro-neighbourhoods’, people of all ages remain the ‘heart’ of the economic, social and cultural life of communities. A mobility ‘ecosystem’, including automated buses and electric ride sharing, could connect specialist knowledge and skill centres to local hubs.

Tek Trak embraces autonomous and electric vehicle technology to radically alter the way. we get around. Elevation Architecture, Urban Strategies and Milanovic Neale, Author provided

Making inclusive neighbourhoods happen
While autonomous vehicle technology might provide more equal access to mobility and transportation, the designers warned that transforming conventional settings of houses and cars to walkable neighbourhoods and autonomous vehicles will be gradual. It depends on two things:

- urban planning that ensures everyone has good access to safer transport alternatives rather than traffic-centric layouts

- long-term equity financed by “future-focused” lenders.

In this model, lenders are less focused on short-term returns. Instead, they have a greater focus on quality design as a catalyst for more development. In a virtuous circle, attractive development that places people close to community activities and businesses generates greater ‘footfall’. That in turn creates more business opportunities that make financially viable communities.

The Longevity by Design Challenge identified a range of opportunities to create a vibrant ‘longevity’ economy by including people of all ages. Small, incremental and affordable changes towards resilient and age-friendly communities can transform perceived burdens into real assets.

Planning communities to embrace, not exclude, people over 65 has all kinds of benefits for Australia.The Conversation

Rosemary Jean Kennedy, Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Design, Queensland University of Technology and Laurie Buys, Professor, Director of Healthy Ageing Initiative, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Do you agree with the concepts in this article? Are we too car-focused? Would you welcome greater connection in your neighbourhood? What is holding that back?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    13th May 2020
    Re - retiring retirement villages: It's about friggin time!

    I'm 59 yrs old & I did, very much to my disgust - witness what buying into a retirement village - after a decade's residency, did financially to my parents bottom line.

    They paid over a quarter mill $ for rights to their " 3 - bed unit " in 2008. When the R V Operators bought back the unit . . . at 2018 Market Valuations, they proceeded to deduct a total of over $100K for so-called ( unit refurbishment & admin fees ). All the unit needed was a new kitchen benchtop, minor internal paint/plaster repair & new carpets. cost - $20,000; tops! My parents were fastidious unit owners, for professional annual cleaning & " odd-job repairs " during their residency . . . paid entirely out of their own pocket!

    So my widowed mother received a final 2018 settlement of significantly less than what they paid for the unit, in the 1st place. Is this retirement village's build of good quality? Indeed so, I've never questioned that. But the corporate operators selling & buy-back tactics in my experience are strongly tantamount to massive financial fraud. They burn the buyer at both ends, don't wear any profit loss & have been doing it for ??? years.
    13th May 2020
    I have a friend who, after the death of her father, was billed an absurd amount to remove the kitchen and redo the tiled floor. It also required a new kitchen. The operator declared the tiles a trip hazard. Fortunately, she overheard the retirement village manager talking with the builder, saying the tiles had to go because she didn't like the colour. My friend sent the evidence to the media and got market value without renovating the unit's kitchen.
    13th May 2020
    It is all about the profits. We are being told to consider retirement villages but they do not look appealing to me. Corporate greed is all I can see too.
    13th May 2020
    All those I have looked at/into are too damn expensive ... to get in, to stay in, and to get out.
    Get rich scheme for the developers ....
    13th May 2020
    If you can't buy a unit with a freehold title you are screwed. The operators claim that they offer a lifestyle that you can't have elsewhere and that is what you are paying for, if your in great health and have no friends they may be right, but it will be a big price to pay.
    14th May 2020
    I bought into a supposed freehold village and still have been screwed.
    13th May 2020
    I bought in to an over 55s complex i bought the unit and the dirt under it we pay strata fees rates and water rates we have a hall with kitchen,ladies and gents wc, out side bbq,and a small libary we sell our duplex when we want and by whom we want it was because of the rorts i think that is why i did not buy one of those because they make there money when your dead
    13th May 2020
    I think we may have reached our peak in life expectancy, I think it will start to decline because people are getting sicker with all the poison in their food, in the air and in just about everything we use. We need to be careful if the Government uses this as an excuse to keep raising the pension age, just because someone is still alive does not mean they are living well.
    15th May 2020
    Incognito, the term "life expectancy" is often misrepresented and misunderstood. A significant factor in the calculation includes those who've died in infancy or early childhood. The apparent increase in "life expectancy" over the past 50 years has mainly been due to the reduction in the deaths in those early years. There have always been many people who have lived into their 80's and 90's.
    Thanks to Government monitoring of food standards, the quality and safety of our foods is much better now than it was 50 years ago. The quality of our suburban air is cleaner too. The diversity and quality of medical treatment is much better than ever.
    I was lucky in that the Government Superannuation Scheme that I was in was aimed at encouraging long term public servants to leave early to make room for succeeding generations to come into the Departments. However technology and social changes meant that in may cases the core objectives of the Departments changed in unpredictable ways.
    Many people in their late 60's could still be productive employees and maybe the "Aged Pension" is a misnomer for many people.
    15th May 2020
    I would disagree that our air is cleaner, we still have toxic particles spewing in the atmosphere, and also our food is being sprayed with poisons and GMO is a worry too.
    14th May 2020
    A lot of people become socially isolated if they suddenly have to live alone or are unable to care for themselves in a house. There is a long waiting list to get any in home care. When you buy a unit in a Retirement Village you don't pay stamp duty. You also don't pay for council rates, water rates or other Govt levies. Included in your maintenance fees is maintenance of gardens (excluding back yard), general maitenance of your unit including regular building electricity safety, regular smoke alarm testing and battery replacement. Many Retirement Villages also include Personal Emergency Alarm Systems. Some villages also have semi-independent large en-suite rooms (some have 2). All meals are included,(including morning tea, afternoon tea and supper. Bed linen and towels provided which are washed etc Beds are changed by staff, rooms are cleaned, medications are supervised by the staff.
    14th May 2020
    Hi Blossom, Your comments certainly do not apply to my Retirement Village. We do pay for everything you think are free? Where is your wonderful sounding Retirement Village?
    15th May 2020
    Blossom, the fully serviced rooms are more aligned with assisted living nursing home care and I'd suggest that not many "Retirement/Lifestyle" Complexes include them.
    As it is entry into such a level of care may be over $400K plus, (in the case of an immediate family member) plus ~$194/day to get that care.
    We are assured that when the time comes, the operators of the care facility will buy back the room at that value as they will anticipate that the future value of the room on the market will have gone up enough to cover actual physical depreciation of the room and any refurbishment required.
    14th May 2020
    By law shelves in the Linen Cupboards to be replaced. Why they can't be disinfected I don't know.
    After 10 years a unit needs repainting and floor coverings replaced anyway.
    Odd jobs are supposed to be done and paid for by the village, not done yourself. The units are not entirely valued by the Retirement Village provider. The Govt is responsible for that. If you go into an Aged Care Facility (low care) they charge a huge bond. They live you will a small amount (Back in 2007 it was $13,000.00) and take the rest. You get some of it back later. High Care they charge more than the pension even without knowing your income or assets at all.
    14th May 2020
    Living in a retirement village works well for many people.
    It is important to take your time choosing where to live.
    Don't choose a village by the way it looks, the gardens, and the amenities or the villa.
    Look at several villages and compare them.
    Are there residents using the facility when you visit?

    On inspection of a village does the sales staff acknowledge other residents by name,
    Check the contracts and ask questions.  Talk to the residents living in the village.
    Choose a solicitor who is conversant with retirement villages.
    Check the solicitor knows the retirement villages act.
    Join the RVRA  NSW  association. Other states have equivalent organisations. Ask questions.

    Contracts which offer a percentage of the pension for the levy means the levy cannot be increased above that amount.  
    Many villages levy is governed by the budget every year and the residents have to vote on how much it will be increased by the proprietor and management.  
    This can work for some people if you have information from the management if levy increases in previous years.  But that does not mean the future payments will be by that example.
    Ask about repairs and extra care.
    Do you have to refurnish and paint before you leave.
    What will you pay when you leave the village.
    How long will it take to get your money.
    Do you have to sell your villa or does management take over.
    Selling your villa has disadvantage if you have to continue paying a monthly levy. Especially if there are many villas for sale.

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