Urban design flexibility required to support all

Building agility into house design which supports all stages of a family life has become essential, as families look for ways to retain investment in larger parental homes and seniors look for alternatives to remain living independently. There are models throughout the world that reflect the growing need to think differently about design.

In 2006 in Canada, laneway housing was introduced principally in Vancouver under the EcoDensity initiative. Houses of approximately 51 metres square, one to two stories, with one or two bedrooms are built on the back half of a traditional lot in the space usually reserved for a garage. The objective is to build affordable houses, lower living costs and transportation costs by concentrated urban living close to services and offer housing design that reduce costs for lighting, heating and cooling.

In Australia, we have long taken advantage of ancillary dwelling, commonly known as ‘granny flats’ which offer a 70 metre square dwelling. These usually include a small kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, and enable occupants to live, independently from the main house. With changes to the State Planning Policy introduced in 2013, these ancillary dwellings are now used to provide housing opportunities for private tenants, carers or unrelated seniors and students. Many retirees are using these as ‘lock and leave’ homes while they join the flocks of grey nomads caravanning their way around Australia, and others offering theirs as Air BnB options.

A new initiative is using technology to provide a platform for seniors to develop ‘virtual retirement villages’, assisting to create networks between seniors living independently in their own homes. These networks are active and supporting thousands of seniors in the US, and an Australian first has been launched, the ‘Waverton Hub’, in northern Sydney.

A membership fee provides paid staff and the infrastructure to support a centralised online network, which offers social activities, learning and fitness as well as assistance with daily tasks, such as bringing in rubbish bins and getting to medical appointments, but is privately owned and operated.

This model in the US has 50 communities with over 3,000 people connecting in their own ‘Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities’ (NORCs) and evolved from senior enclaves developed in local areas which promoted a senior friendly living environment.

Another growing number of seniors are choosing to live in share houses. Seen as the exclusive domain for adventurous 20 somethings, the share house is experiencing a resurgence as the chosen place for people who would not otherwise be able to access to a property of value or the lifestyle that it affords.

In 2016, flatmates.com.au, recorded the largest increase of house sharers was in the 60 – 64 bracket with a 43% increase. Website www.seniorshousingonline.com launched in 2004, has assisted thousands of people Australia wide to find accommodation options. Co-founder Amanda Graham, reflected, that ‘some people are going into shared housing because they can’t afford an alternative. They might have divorced, or lost a partner, been made redundant or relocated. Others are simply hitting their 50’s still with a large mortgage. Our site is about using the digital economy to connect people.’

Remember for many this is not a new experience, having done so in their 20’s only to revisit it again in their 50’s and 60’s. While providing the real option of companionship, shared housing does not suit those with complex health care needs.

While building agility is not new. Zoning that allows subdivision, designs that support ease of retro-fitting and accessibility and adaptability, to support not only those with disability but the frail aged should be the norm.

Design that embrace environmental practices such as solar energy, natural light-filled areas, green roofs, insulation which improves thermal performance and stormwater management, have tangible fiscal advantages for seniors.

Design considerations that promote fiscal maximisation, support people as they transition from empty-nesters to retirees, make downsizing more attractive and affordable to an increasingly connected and environmentally aware ageing population.

Currently Australian Standard on Design for Access is based on 18 – 60 year olds. However it could be argued that if you apply the 8 80 Cities model, then if it is suitable for 8 year olds to 80 then it will suit all people. Residential housing communities should also offer access to parks and recreation facilities within distances that the frail aged can manage, with appropriate seating, well-lit paths and support mobility scooters and walkers.

On a local note, it will be interesting to watch the development of Shire of Dardanup’s Wanju townsite. This 1245 hectares urban development is projected to support 20,000 homes, offer 4000 jobs, include 3 public, and 2 private high schools and 9 public and 2 private primary schools. The draft Wanju District Structure Plan outlines the proposal for inclusivity, with a mix of residential densities, dwelling sizes, types and tenure, including affordable homes,both on the open market and Department of Housing, to buy and rent and part buy/ part rent.

A conceptual video is available here: www.planning.wa.gov.au/publications/8359.aspx

West Australia is yet to develop a Habitat for Humanity chapter. See the great work of this organisation here: https://habitat.org.au/what-we-do/australia/

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