The ageing of Australia is becoming a more frequently discussed topic, and so it should. In 1970, Australians aged 65 or more accounted for just eight per cent of the population. This rose to 13 per cent in 2001 and will rise to one in every four Australians by 2042.
There are widespread ramifications for our society and for our economy that are going to occur because of this. Not least of which is that whereas only as recently as 2002 there were more than five working age people for every person aged 65 plus, there will only be half as many working age people supporting each person aged 65 plus by 2042. Our tax system isn’t designed to cope with this, and neither are our current approaches to providing suitable housing choices for ageing Australians.
But what’s architecture’s role in preparing Australia for a very different demographic future? Isn’t this an issue for economists and politicians?
I certainly don’t see it that way. The profession will become even more specialised in the design of new retirement living and aged care facilities. These will be created around entirely different models of ‘care’ for communities with an entirely new psychology of resident. Much of this ‘new wave’ of design is happening now, with practices involved in a number of schemes which approach things like ‘aged care’ and ‘retirement living’ with a completely different set of eyes than those which created the legacy of traditional institutions, some of which continue to linger today.
More than this, the architecture profession will reach beyond the realm of site boundaries and project-specific needs and begin to consider ways in which entire suburbs can be re-designed. We will do this so the ageing population can continue to live in the surrounds they have been familiar with, without the need for large scale relocation to facilities on the other side of town simply because no sites were available nearby.
Many of us wish to continue to grow and age in the community environment we grew up in, or raised our families in. But the current design of many of our suburban environments isn’t supportive of that happening. Indeed, it’s fair to suggest that the nature of suburban design as it exists today was something prepared for a community that was much younger, much more active and in family formation stages of life. The nature of the houses, the nature of the shopping centres, the community facilities, transport networks and so on was all designed largely with young to middle age families in mind.
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