Senior gentleman sitting in a cafe in the city

Seniors in the city

How senior living can invigorate urban residential developments

The stereotypical ‘asset acquisition, development and disposal’ model of property developers can sometimes be at odds with the desire to create new truly mixed-use and tenure developments in urban locations.

A dependence on investor buyers – perhaps now set to lessen – can narrow the perspective towards more monocultural schemes with smaller apartments designed for maximum returns for the developer and rental yields for the buyer.

What may be missing however is a sense of real community. Transient tenants at work all day mean such schemes are usually deserted during the day. At worst, commercial units (the always promised ‘ shops, bars and restaurants’) may remain empty and hard to rent out; an estate agent and convenience store usually the first and sometimes only occupiers.

Developers are necessarily adept at adapting to changing market conditions. PRS (private rented sector) is now the current vogue du jour with developers and investors busy trying the make the numbers work and also figure out how to develop service-oriented brands. Whilst PRS may help reduce the housing shortage especially in London, it still may do little to change the nature of the schemes being developed and their ability to serve a more varied community.

So it is perhaps ironic that one way to animate such schemes is to create within them dedicated places for older people to live. ‘Downsizers’, ‘senior citizens’, ‘grey panthers’, ‘elderly folk’, call them what you will, there’s no doubt about the growing numbers of baby boomers now reaching later life, and the opportunity this represents to developers. By mid-2039, more than 1 in 12 of the population is projected to be aged 80 or over (Source: ONS)

Apart from making a helpful contribution to negotiations over Section 106 payments, catering for and encouraging an older generation to live in schemes typically populated only by those of working age can make a positive difference both to the economics and the sense of community of the scheme.

There is an opportunity to create a more integrated and participative place to live for all. A larger day-time population can attract a wider range of services. In turn, developers can attract greater variety of commercial tenants.

Equally facilities being purpose-built for senior living could be adapted to serve a wider customer. Care facilities being built for older people can be expanded to incorporate health care services for other local people, thus increasing overall health care and reducing operational costs.

A recent visit to London’s self-styled luxury retirement village at Battersea Place offered the chance to enjoy the high quality of the food that the chefs are preparing for their residents. Could similar in-house catering facilities be expanded to offer a public-facing restaurant or café, again providing a service to more people as well as reducing average costs of operation?

The presence of older people can also be the catalyst for creating amenities that would otherwise not be considered or fully utilised. Developers often consider the ‘village hall’ concept for a multi-use space to be incorporated into a scheme’s plans, but equally aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Working in association with a senior living provider can enable a much broader range of uses and day-parts to be considered – adult education, charity-related events, nursery sessions and so on. And with them, an opportunity for a wider generational mix and the enjoyment and learning it offers.

A world too ideal to consider? It needs genuinely joined-up thinking to move beyond seeing large schemes as comprising a series of individual plots to be developed and instead consider how the whole scheme can embrace and integrate a variety of different but complementary user groups (as well as the existing local area). Such a perspective wholeheartedly reflects the ethos which lies at the core of the placemaking movement – that which champions quality of life resulting from more social interaction.

Regeneration with the help of the older generation? That’s a novel idea.

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