Opportunity Knocks.

Never before has the future looked so bright for Ageing Australians

Australia’s ageing population has been well publicized and forecast for decades. What may come as a surprise to many is the pace at which this realignment is taking place. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Australians aged 85 and over has more than doubled, going from 1% in 1996 to 2.1% in 2016. The number of Australians aged 65 and over has similarly increased, going from 11% in 1996 to over 15% in 2016. But that’s just a warmup for what comes next. With the country’s birth rate hovering steadily below replacement level and life expectancies now among the world’s longest, Australia is set to become a much greyer nation. Australia is one of only seven countries worldwide who’s life expectancy for both men & women exceeds 80 years of age. Sharing the mantel with Australia on this front is Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland. 

By the year 2056, Australia is expected to be home to nearly 40,000 centarians. A figure that is up from only 4,000 today. 

While the ageing population in Australia and other industrialized nations poses a significant challenge for governments worldwide, it’s also spurring innovation in healthcare, technology, social policy, and urban design. As the first wave of baby boomers approach the myriad of retirement options, they are faring better than earlier generations when it comes to maintaining their health and well-being, about three-quarters of Australians over the age of 65 rate their health as good, very good, or excellent in recent surveys. 

Mature aged workers (aged between 50-70 years of age), are on track to be more mobile and independent than their predecessors, and are likely to work longer, providing of course they are encouraged and supported to do so. Sadly, one in every four mature aged workers have experienced age discrimination in the workplace leading to early on set retirement, social isolation and a greater risk of experiencing symptoms of depression.  The social impact is significant, but equally so, the economic impact of undervaluing our ageing demographic is frightening.  If there was an increase of just 7% of mature Australians (50-70 years) continuing to remain active within the workforce, Australia’s GDP over the next five years would increase by $25B. Not to mention the knowledge, emotional intelligence, experience and mentorship which will be retained. 

Embracing a truly age inclusive shift in cultural and social attitude, communities need to plan and design around the shifting needs of this population without the stereotype barriers demographics has traditionally placed on development. An innovative example of such thinking is Uniting Communities Franklin Street Redevelopment, designed by Woods Bagot, in the heart of Adelaide’s CBD. It is a radically significant multi-faceted addition to the social fabric and urban infrastructure of South Australia’s capital. Positioned along the pedestrian walkway connecting the riverbank to market. It is a highly activated, desire-able and extremely well serviced location.

Currently in construction, Franklin Street will offer community and health services, residential care accommodation, respite and disability accommodation, retail, and education spaces within a single vertical community spanning 20 storeys. 

It is a truly inclusive community: demographically inclusive, cultural inclusive, socially inclusive, financially inclusive, and care inclusive.

Each ‘element’ of the building will have its own distinct community space and outdoor terrace which is expressed in the architecture through large bronze folds in the façade that celebrate the diverse expressions of community. The building is about creating a shared identity whilst expressing distinct ‘neighbourhoods’ all within the one building; celebrating unity through diversity.

The building will offer all users a uniquely integrated service model aligning itself with the latest international research and best practice in the provision of community based support and services. It is set to revolutionize the way we consider, value and design for age inclusive care environments.

Luckily, the evolving architecture of the workplace, retail space, residential, and mixed-use developments bode well for older users. Seniors will be able to choose from a growing menu of residential options that offer shared communal space, stimulating activities, and services to handle cooking, laundry, and housekeeping. The trend towards small suites with shared kitchens and common space is ideal for multigenerational living. Communities with a diverse age mix are good for everyone, offering stimulation for older residents and a broader support network for younger ones. Retired residents create demand for activities and services during the day; younger workers can keep neighborhoods more vibrant at night. Education facilities aimed at the young can benefit the old while a wider availability of volunteers can spawn services that might not be otherwise feasible.  

City planners, meanwhile, help seniors when they shift focus from car access to pedestrian plazas and bike paths. It allows for a finer urban fabric, in which footbridges and parkland can take precedence over off ramps and parking lots. The flexibility of human-powered transportation encourages more variety in the landscape, more entertainment hubs, more retail, more residences, and more connections between neighborhoods. There’s less air pollution, more opportunities to create and connect with nature. More foot traffic tends to create more vibrant and more secure neighborhoods. At the building level, accessible design can enhance the quality of life for everyone, from mothers with strollers and injured kids to seniors and people with physical disabilities. 

New technologies promise to transform how we spend the last chapter of our lives. Self-driving cars could enable people to remain mobile when they can no longer drive themselves. Sensors on the body and in the home may allow patients to live independently while staying connected to family and medical care. Energy usage can be calibrated to the individual. With data analytics and appropriate privacy protections, businesses can help seniors identify aberrant behavior, financial issues, or social needs they might not recognize on their own. New platforms can connect seniors to opportunities worldwide that let them leverage their skills and stay engaged at a pace that suits their current needs. 

Taken together, the combination of tech innovation and fresh design thinking is transforming how we build and interact with our environments. As with travellers venturing into a new city, seniors venturing into a new stage of life want an experience that delights the senses and empowers the soul. They want the services that are needed in growing old while living in communities that also attract the young. In return for giving up personal data and privacy, they expect personalized service and a differentiated offering, whether it’s from their hotelier or their doctor. While science has yet to reverse the ageing process or cure age-related ailments like Alzheimer’s, it’s already changing perceptions of the limitations imposed by age. Smart design can help transcend those limitations, enabling people to transform their communities without leaving home.

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