From intergenerational-habitating to internet-fuelled-togetherness, the future of communal living may contribute to greater health, happiness and social connections.
It’s the year 2250. Cancer has been cured, houses are self-cleaning and chocolate is healthy. Elders are worshipped as fountains of knowledge. Blue-haired seniors whoosh past in hover-chairs (wheelchairs relegated to the dusty displays of early-2000 relics), robot dogs sitting obediently on their laps.
It may sound far-fetched, but with the leaps and bounds constantly being made in science and technology, anything is possible (and robot dogs already exist, though they’re not as cuddly as the real thing). But even if we don’t currently live like a character in Star Trek, zipping across space in an aerodynamic rocket ship, there are forward-thinking people across the world who are already making changes to the way that they live, and are having a positive impact on their communities in the process.
"To live long is a good thing but to age well is better," says 85-year-old visionary Therese Clerc, who is the founder of a self-managed housing project in Paris. Devised and run by a community of female senior citizens who want to live alongside one another but maintain their independence, it's a win-win situation for everyone involved. "We want to change the way people see old age, and that means, learning to live differently," she said.
It creates an atmosphere of togetherness, constant social support, and the freedom to live life their way. The building houses 25 self-contained flats; 21 are adapted for the elderly and four are reserved for students. As the world population continues to swell, the number of those requiring a home offering a safe, supportive, social environment is ever increasing. In 2010, an estimated 524 million people were aged 65 or older—eight per cent of the world’s population. By 2050, this number is expected to nearly triple to about 1.5 billion, representing 16 per cent of the world’s population. And as the generations become more and more demanding expectations will only increase. Forget having just a home to live in – it will be a fully immersive experience where health and wellbeing are integrated into every day.
Glimmers of that are already evident in Lendlease villages across Australia where a strong community spirit and a holistic attitude to health and wellbeing is a given. An industry-first platform that will be a proactive, customised approach to health is currently in the works and is set to be rolled out Australia-wide, ensuring residents will live their best lives possible. Add to that a Renewal Program, which is not only reinvigorating the physical surrounds of the villages, but enhancing the tight sense of community within, and you have all the hallmarks of a community that will continue to be a success well into the future.
Recently Closebourne Village, set in the historic town of Morpeth, won the 2016 National Award for Excellence in Seniors Living by the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) NSW. It’s a perfect example of the fusion of old and new living in harmony. “Using materials and methods from 150 years ago, the historical relevance of the building has been retained and its use transformed into a vibrant and interactive community centre,” said Michael Eggington, Managing Director, Lendlease Retirement Living. “The centre is the heart of the community and has created a wonderful sense of social engagement.”
"The centre is the heart of the community and has created a wonderful sense of social engagement."
Michael Eggington, Managing Director, Lendlease Retirement Living
With the historic town of Berwick just down the road, Woodlands Park offers village-style living with all the conveniences of city-living. Country markets, wineries, natural bushland and historic treasures are all within easy reach.
Numerous studies have linked the benefits of social interaction to a raft of positives including decreased loneliness, reduced risk of disease and an increase in longevity. Furthermore, a 2013 Japanese study found that intergenerational socialising has additional benefits, and is shown to increase the amount of smiling and conversation between adults. A forward-thinking aged-care home, The Mount, in West Seattle, America, is the embodiment of this study exemplifying the beauty of older and younger people interacting in harmony and the results are astounding.
Five days a week, from Monday to Friday, the 400 residents at The Mount (many of whom have been diagnosed with Dementia and Alzheimer’s) share their 300,000 square-foot facility with up to 125 children, aged zero to five. These children and their teachers make up the Mount’s Intergenerational Learning Center (ILC), a licensed non-profit child-care centre and preschool established on the Mount’s premises in 1991. The two groups enjoy activities including music, dancing, art and lunchtime together, and the bonds they’ve forged create a positive impact both ways.
Over in South America, young Brazilians are learning to speak English…. by chatting to elderly Americans in Chicago, proving you don’t have to be in the same country to create a feeling of community. In yet another example of the brilliance of the internet, the initiative by FCB Brazil for CNA Language Schools is connecting youth with retirees – and the relationships that develop over time are socially and culturally enriching on either side of the screen.
"The idea is simple and it's a win-win proposition..."- Joanna Monteiro
"The idea is simple and it's a win-win proposition for both the students and the American Senior Citizens," says Joanna Monteiro, executive creative director at FCB Brazil. "It's exciting to see their reactions and contentment." After all, the elderly residents dispel feelings of loneliness and the students improve their English, and gain another set of grandparents (even if the hugs are long-distance). It's heart-warming and life-affirming whichever way you look at it.At the Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, Holland, university students are able to live rent free, in exchange for keeping residents company for around 30 hours a week. They do a variety of activities together including watching sport, celebrating birthdays and generally being good, friendly neighbours – which in turn, staves off feelings of isolation and disconnectedness.
When bringing together a great diversity of people, there’s always potential for conflict; generation gaps that could lead to misunderstandings and social – not to mention musical – differences. But despite all this, what’s most encouraging is the idea that a sense of community – and a desire to help one another – is the way the world may be going. Humanity, compassion, kindness, togetherness – and a place where age and background are completely irrelevant.