Built environment: what seniors want

A new report explains what seniors want from housing and urban environments, based on the results of a year-long research project that was recently completed on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane.

Above, L-R: Jim and Noreen Weeks, residents of Immanuel Gardens Retirement Village with Phil Smith, Dr Claudia Baldwin and Caroline Osborne, authors of the report, Infill Development for Older Australians in South East Queensland.

A report launched earlier this month in Brisbane has shed light on the kinds of urban environments and dwellings that older people want to live in, based on research from southest Queensland.

The report, Infill Development for Older Australians in South East Queensland, was launched in Brisbane earlier this month following a year-long project conducted by researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), with support from Churches of Christ Care, Sunshine Coast Council, the [Queensland] Urban Land Development Authority and architectural firm Deicke Richards.

Based on the participation of around 40 people aged over 55 from southeast Queensland, the booklet “illustrates the preferences of older people through their own photos and words, and provides examples of innovation achieved through a collaborative design process”, according a USC research summary.

The project used creative research methods, such as asking the participants to show and explain their preferences and dislikes using their own photographs. 

The report was written for developers, care providers, planners, builders, and policy-makers as a guide to providing ‘age-friendly’ housing and urban environments, as the density of urban communities grows over time. 

“… It provides justification for a change from ‘business as usual’, to delivering an accessible product to an increasingly knowledgeable and discerning seniors’ market,” the research summary continues.

One couple involved in the research were Noreen and Jim Weeks, who live in Lutheran Community Care’s Immanuel Gardens Retirement Village in Buderim, on the Sunshine Coast.

Mrs Weeks said the research was “crucial because some developers currently don’t understand senior living, because it is an era of life they have not discovered yet”.

“The internal and external environment should be more compatible with seniors’ needs with greater consideration of the effects of building on an awkward slope, built-up doorways and steps,” she said.

“We identified a need for being near facilities and services and appropriate design of new buildings.”

Noreen’s husband, Jim Weeks, said “the little things” in design could make life easier, like doors that swing outwards rather than inwards, “to help people avoid accidents”.

“The construction of bathrooms, easy access in terms of pathways and the placement of cooking equipment in the kitchen can all play a part in helping to prevent falls and injuries,” Mr Weeks said. 

USC senior lecturer in regional and urban planning and co-author of the report, Dr Claudia Baldwin, said cutting-edge insights were unveiled in the research, which could set the future agenda of urban development.

“Many people explained how important sustainability, universal design principles and their neighbourhood is to them and how new developments can enhance a sense of community,” Dr Baldwin said.

“They really liked having outdoor balconies big enough to use and private space. People living in a big city like Brisbane were concerned about safety while people on the Sunshine Coast valued nature and the environment.

The report’s other co-author, Deicke Richards associate director Phil Smith, said the research responded to the influences that would shape Australian cities over the next 50 years – an ageing population and increasing urbanisation. 

“Infill housing for seniors should focus on well-serviced neighbourhoods that enable a positive ageing experience, not places where the land is cheapest,” Mr Smith said.

“It goes beyond ageing in place – ‘ageing in neighbourhood’ means being part of a familiar community with access to social services, transport, shopping, employment and people of all ages.

“All Australian cities have growth targets of at least 50 per cent infill housing over the next 20 years, but few specifically address housing choice for seniors.” 

Tags: age-friendly, age-friendly-city, ageing-in-place, architects, building, built-environment, urban-planning,

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