Flying solo: Housing trends boosting independent living for over-55s

Feb 18, 2021
Urban community gardens are mentally and physically beneficial for older residents who live in garden-free housing. Source: Getty

Australia’s population has been slowing due to the immigration shutdown over the past few months, which will boost the size of our ageing communities. Many within this larger proportion of older Aussies will no doubt be looking to ‘age in place’ or access facilities that will allow them to maintain their independence.

Fortunately, there are many emerging housing and planning solutions that will help over-55s downsize, while enjoying integrated and independent lives through accessible and inclusive amenities, infrastructure and support. Here are seven current and future trends aiming to support older Aussies in this way:

1. Mixed-use developments and apartment buildings. More and more, over-55s and aged care living areas are being included in mixed-use masterplanned communities. These developments integrate over-55s housing into the community – helping older Aussies avoid isolation and loneliness. For example, the new Ripley Town Centre south-west of Brisbane was designed to include residential lots, retail space, an underground train station, hospitality venues, community spaces, a hospital, senior living and aged care. I forecast more mixed-use developments will be designed with over-55s living in mind. Apartment buildings where the first few floors are dedicated to over-55s are also likely to emerge in the future.

2. Multigenerational housing. Aussies are increasingly embracing the idea of multigenerational living. In fact, one in five Aussies live in a multigenerational household. I’m already seeing properties make use of space by developing granny flats or small dwellings on a property, while younger generations move into the main home. This allows older generations to live independently but feel supported and less isolated due to proximity to the rest of their family. I expect this trend to evolve to make way for innovative multigenerational housing developments, whereby older generations live in a self-contained floor of a main property, or a separate home in the same building or parcel of land. In this way, older generations can maintain their own space and independence without the limitations of a granny flat model, which often don’t have full bathroom or kitchen facilities.

3. Universal housing design. Many Aussies over 60 want to live and age in their own homes. Building more ‘livable’ 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 ageing Aussies. I predict we will start to see better residential designs emerge that meet the needs of people during all life stages and will help the older population ‘age in place’.

4. Aged living areas above shopping centres or in CBDs. Mobility is an important part of over-55s living, as it helps boost independence while integrating with the local community. Aged living areas can often be isolated, which makes it difficult for older Aussies to remain connected to the community. Due to this, aged living spaces in CBDs are starting to emerge, and I expect to see this increase, allowing residents to be within easy walking distance to theatres, shopping precincts and health facilities. I think this will evolve even further with the emergence of retirement units built above shopping centres, enabling residents to mingle with the community and have much of their needs met without help.

5. The rise of urban gardens. Community gardens are continuing to emerge across the country and I expect to see further growth in urban environments. These gardens are mentally and physically beneficial for older residents who live in garden-free housing, and enable them to teach gardening and horticulture to younger generations. They also serve as a great way to bring communities together.

6. Age-friendly precincts. The idea of age-friendly precincts is still relatively new. I predict there will be a growth in age-agnostic infrastructure, amenities and services in local communities to support this endeavour. For example, the 2020-2024 Age-Friendly City Plan in Canberra will eliminate barriers for over-65s who wish to stay active and socially connected to the community, while having easier access to health services. I expect to see local and State Governments develop similar plans in coming years. These plans are likely to lead to more accessible public transport, widespread street furniture for pausing and resting, more public facilities, and levelled, shaded and wider footpaths, all of which encourage older Aussies to leave their homes and feel safe to mingle in their community.

7. Age-friendly businesses. Many town and neighbourhood centres are being revitalised, however there is a focus on retail and entertainment that only serves younger generations. Town centres and businesses are missing the opportunity to cater to older Aussies, who represent one of the biggest markets in the country. For example, food and beverage venues should undertake fit-outs that reduce reflected noise and provide comfortable seating. Retail venues can also implement simple changes, such as providing seating for older customers to rest.

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