Embracing the silver pound - city design for an ageing population


Contact Jamie Webb, Head of Benoy EMEA

ST 220215 N37 hd

Contact Julie Oti, Architect

In developed countries, the elderly population will grow by more than one-third in the next 15 years, which is about 222 million people. This represents about 51% of urban consumption growth, which is equivalent to more than $4 trillion, according to McKinsey. Here Jamie Webb, Head of EMEA and Architect Julie Oti, explore what this could mean for future city design.

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We are living longer and healthier. In the UK equity release and financial freedom for over 65’s coupled with rising living costs, unaffordability and an evolving senior living/​retirement offer means that there is a significant gap in the market to fill. Estimates range on the shortfall in senior living housing but conservative estimates are that we are currently 50,000 units short. With the over 65 population predicted to rise by 31% over the next 15 years, this demographic will be a critical part of all urban projects and an economic and social driver.

The consumers of these developments are also demanding change. Post covid they no longer see their future located so much in rural, isolated, and disconnected communities and are envisaging a new life in smaller rented accommodation in well connected, mixed communities in our urban centres where interactions with likeminded and diverse people are facilitated. Change is afoot and this overlooked and undervalued demographic are set to be the cornerstone of our new urban developments.

According to the English Housing Survey, 80% of over-65s own their own home (either with a mortgage or outright). In the latest Housing Futures report, a consumer survey published by Strutt and Parker, revealed that 48% of those over the age of 66 would prefer to rent their next home.

The Social Value

How does this benefit its communities and wider society?

The time is right to consider communities of inclusivity rather than separation and isolation. There is significant evidence that predicates social connectedness as a key indicator of emotional well-being and happiness. As quality of life and happiness are increasingly drivers of design, we are now placing senior living within wider more mixed communities that encourage and facilitate social interaction, walking, exercise and developing a stronger sense of purpose. These are critical elements to ensuring quality of life and relieving pressure on wider NHS and healthcare services which in turn benefit the wider community.

We can now imagine age-inclusive designs that increase and improve social value by responding to diverse consumer needs such as touch, hearing, memory, vision etc. A focus on open space, air quality, noise and amenity in our designs means that the places we are creating are ever more suited to an ageing generation as well as the younger and family demographics we traditionally cater for.

This two-way relationship between old and young fosters a sense of purpose and identity, strengthens communities and the perception of senior generations. The benefits-in-kind of childcare, mentorship, and support essentially create healthier, connected and emotionally stable communities.

Designing the Synergy

How can this impact the design of future communities?

Urban infill sites afford a new opportunity that has not yet been utilised by typical senior living developments. By creating opportunities for residents to venture to nearby commercial zones we can also envisage a rethink of our urban centres, the high street and the public realm and amenities needed to support them. This demographic has a lot to offer in terms of disposable income, wisdom and time that can help support and grow the local community it sits within.

Our designs will change and adapt to create accessible, age blind solutions with strong healthcare, amenity and external space provision. Internally our designs will adapt to create communities within communities and focus on the needs of this new demographic. By creating developments which cross generational divides both the physical and mental health of its communities are enhanced as well as lowering the risk of loneliness and early onset dementia. Two ever increasing challenges wider society is facing.

At Benoy we work closely with our sister company Pragma, to understand the needs, demand and analytics of our projects and we are increasingly seeing clients evaluating the social, economic and environmental benefits of this inter-generational offer in our urban neighbourhoods.