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Ageing needs to be part of the debate about urban regeneration

Cities across the UK are planning serious regeneration projects. But are they considering the needs of older people?

Camilla Lewis, senior lecturer in Ageing and Urban Studies at Newcastle University, explains her recent research on ensuring older people aren't left behind in urban regeneration efforts. 

There’s a stereotype that when we get older, we want to move out of the city to the suburbs or more rural areas. But more and more people are staying in city centres in later life, wanting the convenience of local shops and services, as well as the vibrant communities that urban areas offer. As demand for suitable and accessible housing continues to rise across the UK, many local authorities in urban areas are engaged in ambitious new housing regeneration projects. These projects should offer mixed, affordable and age-appropriate housing and amenities. But do they go far enough in considering the different needs of all age groups?

Researchers at Newcastle University and the University of Manchester, funded by the Centre for Ageing Better and Age Friendly Manchester (Manchester City Council), found that urban regeneration is often only advantageous to younger, more affluent residents. For example, less than half of local housebuilding plans in England included provision for accessible homes to allow independent living for people with disabilities.

It’s a concerning prospect, especially given that the number of older people living in privately rented accommodation is predicted to surge in the next twenty years – much of which is likely to be unsuitable for their needs.

Given the shifting age demographics reshaping society, ageing needs to be central to debates about urban development and how we design our towns, cities and communities. Based on their work, the researchers recommend that:  

  1. Future regeneration should offer mixed, affordable and age-appropriate housing. Building new, accessible homes will be of benefit to all generations. Ensuring they are inclusively designed homes will help people to remain independent, safe and socially connected in later life.
  2. Urban regeneration should ensure that people can remain actively involved in their neighbourhood as they grow older, staying connected to those who matter to them. This means including a wide range of spaces like libraries and community centres so that people can interact across all age groups.
  3. Developers should address the needs and aspirations of older people across different tenures (including social housing, private rental and owner-occupier), recognising emerging trends among older age groups. These include: entering or remaining in the private sector, the increased number of people experiencing divorce or separation, and the increased interest in city-centre living.
  4. Urban regeneration plans should try to avoid the spatial segregation of different groups within the community, particularly the separation of residents by age group, tenure, and property size. For many people, an age-friendly community is one that they share with people at different life stages, not a type of specialist housing.
  5. Regeneration should aim to share the benefits it brings between long-term residents and newcomers. This can be done by supporting existing community spaces and keeping the place’s identity at the heart of new developments.
For many people, an age-friendly community is one that they share with people at different life stages, not a type of specialist housing

We know we need to prepare for more people living longer. There are currently more than 11.9 million people aged 65 and over in the UK, with this number set to increase by more than 40% within the next 20 years.

It is vital that urban regeneration delivers suitable and accessible housing, in communities that enable us to age well. Increased awareness and consideration of this issue, and greater efforts to address ageing in urban regeneration projects from local authorities, private developers and stakeholders is essential to the needs of the growing ageing communities in cities.

 

Camilla Lewis, senior lecturer in Ageing and Urban Studies at Newcastle University.

This research was carried out with Mark Hammond, Niamh Kavanagh, Chris Phillipson and Sophie Yarker and was funded by the Centre for Ageing Better and Age Friendly Manchester. You can read the report in full here.

For more information, contact camilla.lewis@newcastle.ac.uk

UK Network of Age-friendly Communities

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Camilla Lewis
Camilla
Lewis
Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle