“OK, so let’s talk about this Age-Friendly thing. I get it, but what exactly do I need to be doing?”
If I had a pound for every time an architect, planner or property developer had asked me this question, I would have… well, about £16. But it’s an important question, and one that frankly I always struggled with. The World Health Organisation’s Age-Friendly Cities and Communities initiative is based on the idea that older people are diverse, holding a wide range of needs and aspirations, and that they should be active participants in positive change in cities. Faced with such complexity, it’s no wonder that those creating new residential developments aren’t sure which way to turn.
But the fact that they are asking the question in the first place is really exciting. We have seen a growth in reports and market research over the last few years which all point to the emerging opportunities for developers who are able to tap into the mid and later-life market, and the increased levels of need amongst older people struggling to find safe, affordable and appropriate housing. While there is obviously a robust specialist housing sector in the UK, that interest from mainstream developers (both social and for-profit) about how they can create age-inclusive schemes is a cause for celebration.
Exploring how we can better support developers has been a key focus of Greater Manchester Housing, Planning and Ageing Group – a collective of policymakers, academics, architects, developers, social housing providers and non-profit organisations convened by the GM Ageing Hub at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The group was constituted with the aim of bringing together a diverse group of professionals, with the aim of improving the quality and quantity of age-inclusive housing across Greater Manchester. This has been a long term mission for GM, and to quote Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester:
“We cannot ignore the fact that our population is ageing and action needs to be taken to ensure that Greater Manchester is accessible and welcoming to people of all ages…Our homes and communities are of increased importance to us as we grow older, so it is vital that we put place and neighbourhood at the heart of our decision-making.”
To mark International Day of Older Persons (October 1st), the GM Housing Planning and Ageing Group has released ‘Creating Age-Friendly Developments’ - a new guide for architects, planners and residential developers, which aims to the development of more ‘age-friendly’ urban developments.
The guide provides guidance to industry professionals about how to embed age-inclusion into all new housing schemes. The guide highlights a series of considerations for designers and developers to consider, ranging from how older people's voice should be included in the planning process, how neighbourhoods can support ageing in place, and features of age-inclusive housing. The guide builds off existing policy initiatives, supporting designers and developers to consider how the diverse requirements of older people might be integrated into the planning process for new residential communities. Although written with reference to Greater Manchester policies, the guide should resonate with policy-makers and professionals much further afield.
So how do we achieve these changes, and ensure more residential developments are being made age-friendly? We think success comes from mainstreaming ageing in policy and industry. One of the contributors to the guide is Shannon Conway, a residential developer and founder of Picture This. She observes that:
“Many working in the property industry associate the term ‘age-friendly’ with specialist retirement and later living development. This document provides a straightforward guide, with examples, of how age-friendly principles can be incorporated throughout all our buildings and public realm, futureproofing our built environment for all-ages communities.”
We also feel that architects, urban designers, interior architects, landscape architects have the opportunity to step up and be more proactive in designing homes and neighbourhoods that are age-inclusive. This needs to go far beyond just complying with accessibility regulations, instead focusing on wider issues of social and cultural inclusivity. There is a really significant opportunity for us to develop new, creative forms of practice and engagement to make sure that older people’s aspirations are being met by the places we help create.
So what next? As with many of you, we await the report from the Older People’s Housing Taskforce with bated breath, but in the meantime will be getting the word out to residential development stakeholders and policy-makers through an industry breakfast event and the UK Network of Age-Friendly Cities in November. We have also recently presented this work at a HAPPI Hour webinar event, which recording is available online. But ultimately, what we really want to see is more developments on the group that offer a more positive, age-inclusive vision for people in Greater Manchester. We look forward to working with colleagues and partners over the coming year to make that a reality.
If you are interested in hearing more about the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub’s work on Housing, find out more here (opens new window).
For further information on Age-friendly developments, please visit the Housing LIN's Age-friendly Communities and Lifetime Neighbourhoods webpages, kindly sponsored by The Dunhill Medical Trust.