PerthAlive Background Paper

The twentieth century was about getting around. The twenty-first century will be about staying in a place worth staying in.
—James Howard Kunstler, American author and social critic


PA-thumbPerthALIVE is a small not-for-profit organization of West Australian community members established to encourage alternative urban design that accommodates people of all ages and specifically allows for ageing in place. This  considers an area of urban planning and design that to our knowledge has not been considered previously.  Most planning and accommodation for people as they age is specific to that group and creates places and communities of people of the same age. PerthALIVE is looking firstly at flexible design that accommodates people in all stages of life living together in higher density mixed use developments and secondly at best practice in engaging the community in creating vibrant open spaces in and around developments that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

Perth has a growing and ageing population, which lends itself to higher density developments that facilitate easy access to a range of appropriate services and amenities that are targeted to people of all ages.  To achieve such density with amenity would require developments to be adjacent to transport nodes and suburban shopping centres. Currently there is a high level of community resistance to higher density developments.  We are looking  at good practice examples of place making and apartment developments that create positive outcomes for the community. In addition, to ensure that all ages are blended into such developments, PerthALIVE also focuses on models of how facilities are developed and services provided for those requiring a level of support as they age.


The Issue

cropped-alive-header.pngAustralia has both an ageing and a growing population. Our total population is expected to grow to almost 36 million by 2050. Over the same period the proportion of the population aged 65 or more is projected to almost double (Australia to 2050: Future Challenges, Intergenerational Report of the Commonwealth Government, January 2010). Western Australia is no exception to this trend.

While in the past people typically retired at 65 and lived for only a decade or so beyond that, people now retire as young as 55 or as old as 75, and are living well into their 90s and beyond. Retirement can span several decades and encompass two generations, comprising people with diverse needs and interests, from those living highly active and independent lives through to those requiring 24/7 care.

Together, these social trends raise the question ‘Where and how will older Australians live?’ It is clear that the typical progression from the family home to a retirement or nursing home on the city outskirts, will no longer meet the needs and hopes of many older Australians.


Our Answer

Studies suggest that most older people want to ‘age in place’. They’re keen to continue living in the same area, close to familiar services and established networks of family and friends. But ‘ageing in place’ means different things to different people. For some, it is about staying in the family home (with or without support) until the end of their lives. For others it means something very different, perhaps converting the family home into two or three apartments, sub-dividing the block or downsizing to smaller and more manageable accommodation (a more ‘lock-n-leave’ style of living) in the same area.

One obvious response to these social trends is to provide higher-density living options in established areas. But delivering on this is no simple matter. In many areas, particularly the more centrally located suburbs with a history of quarter-acre blocks and no in-fill, there are cultural, structural, planning and policy obstacles to overcome. In particular, we often hear claims of the ‘loss of amenity’ – objections that are widely reported in the media.

Our group, which comprises people from the western suburbs who share an interest in creating vibrant communities for people of all ages, wishes to present an alternate viewpoint. Far from opposing higher density living, we welcome the diverse accommodation options it presents.


Best Practice for “Ageing in Place

For a development to embrace best practice for ageing in place it is important to pay attention to both universal design and community aspects.  This does not mean a preoccupation with medical issues but an acknowledgement of the types of services that may be needed by a proportion of the residents who are ageing.  Many of these will the same as for the wider community – restaurants, convenience stores, hairdresser, medical practitioners, physiotherapy, dentists – but some may be different.  The model should allow for the provision of mobile medical and personal care services or other therapies to be accommodated or contracted in. The focus is not on care and cure but on residents being active and contributing members of the community for as long as possible; we appreciate that there are health, social and economic benefits from keeping older people active and engaged in the community.

One example of good practice, the Netherlands Humanitas model, has what they call an “indoor village square”.  Here all the necessary support services are clustered, albeit within as normal an environment as possible, and with a focus on bringing the community in. Humanitas values the “blending” of different ages together and avoiding groups of aged people requiring support.

The question is to what extent can key elements of the “indoor village square” be incorporated into a Western Australian development?  In other words, what might this mean in practical terms?


A Working  Model

We are keen that the design of any development appeals to people of all ages. The development should create a space that can accommodate life changes – “an apartment for life” that allows “ageing in place”. Ideally such apartment complexes would also be environment-friendly, sustainable, and promote the community connectedness that flows from the sharing of communal facilities.

What do we see as accommodation options in apartments for life?

We envisage diversity in the accommodation. Proposed developments that have appropriate density, such as a mixed used development with a number of apartment buildings have the potential to deliver this. Ideally the ground level would have some combination of amenities for both residents and the general community including communal gardens, studios, workshops, libraries plus commercial and retail space.  A ground floor ‘village square’ concept actively welcomes the community in and creates a vibrant environment. Each building would have:

  • A mix of 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom apartments, with 1 to 2 bathrooms.  These could cater for single people, couples and small families.
  • Some “dual key” apartments. Dual key apartments are separate dwellings with two entrances, a shared foyer and on a single title.  This is very positive for ‘whole of life’ accommodation and would suit adult children, ageing parents, carers and visitors. Where the second dwelling is not required by the owner (either temporarily or permanently), it could be rented out.
  • Ideally all apartments would:
  1. Have a large balcony big enough for some outdoor garden and dining table/chairs.
  2. Be as environmentally sustainable as possible, making maximum use of natural light, cross breezes, efficient water usage and solar energy. The provision of larger laundry spaces than are typical of apartments, for example, would encourage people to air-dry their clothes rather than use a clothes dryer.
  3. Be designed to achieve optimum privacy and noise control standards and meet universal design standards for disability access.

The development could comprise a mixture of private and public housing, helping to meet government housing affordability objectives. It would suit people with a mixed range of ages and needs, from those who are living independently through to those needing a moderate level of support.  Discussion with aged care providers have revealed that they would see themselves having a presence within a commercial and retail precinct to provide access to appropriate services to the small percentage of residents requiring their services.

The model should provide opportunities for extended families and friends (including young and older people) to live in the same development as well as including a proportion of residents with disabilities. These living arrangements would reduce the residents’ carbon footprint as people would no longer need to travel long distances to visit (and provide care for) each other. This would, in turn, reduce the cost to government of the provision of support services. Governments may find this an economical model for service delivery because service recipients are living closer together.

If we are to encourage less dependence on cars it is also important to provide storage for bicycles within the design of the complex and to allow space for the operation of a shared pool of cars, bikes and vans to hire and rent. This would help reduce residents’ reliance on cars.

Creating public spaces that allow for ‘incidental encounters’

From our understanding of place-making and accepted design principles for creating spaces and places for healthy living, it is not just the buildings that are important, but the design of places and the experiences they facilitate. Opportunities for incidental encounters should be maximised. Many of the developments we have looked at seem to focus on security and this appears to dictate many of the decisions about design and use of the amenities.  While we understand this is an issue for some people and must be addressed if the apartments are to be saleable we do not want it to be an overriding factor in decision-making.

The literature also suggests that good public spaces do not happen instantly.  What is required, it seems, is provision of flexibility so that spaces can grow and change as lessons are learnt about how spaces work best and how they can be made more inviting. This also happens in response to the different resources that can be leveraged and what partnerships can be formed to further activate the spaces. For this reason, we would suggest that as many spaces as possible in the development be designed with mixed/changing use in mind. For example a central plaza or village square could draw people to the area through events such as regular second hand book fairs, outdoor cooking classes, multicultural fairs, open-air exercise classes, and BYO food events where alcohol could also be purchased from a bar set up in the plaza.

Our research has revealed that the placement of different design elements in developments is critical to the activity levels generated and needs to be considered carefully in planning. In one example a children’s reading room in a new library was located next to a playground in the park with a food kiosk. The co-location of these features was synergistic in increasing the possibility of more activity. As an example, boules or an oversize outdoor chess game might be placed next to a coffee shop.


What we want inside the development

We have worked from the premise that the design and management of the spaces should allow for as much “social encounter” as possible.  The critical feature of our ideal complex, therefore, would be a ‘village square’ that welcomes the ‘outside’ community inside through the provision of a range of recreational and cultural facilities/ amenities.  Some of these would be primarily for residents but others would be open to the community.  Ideally amenities should be built at the same time as the accommodation to make the development as attractive as possible to potential purchasers.

There are further questions to explore. For example, how can the facilities needed by those requiring a level of support be provided so that all ages are blended in the development? Our research suggests that this would likely mean the need for covered walkways/wheelchair friendly paths to allow easy access to restaurants, communal dining areas and support services.

An Aged care provider we have consulted has indicated that they would see themselves having an office or suite within the development to allow residents to access the range of services that they would offer. They would provide support services to the residents needing their specialised services. This could include such things as personal care, medication, nursing, respite, social supports and escort to medical appointments. They have identified though, that many of the fee for service lifestyle support services they would provide such as cleaning, laundry, pet care and general maintenance would be appropriate for residents of all ages. Other services such as childcare and services for young families and youth could also be included.

Some of the possible components inside the development, many of them that could be established through partnering arrangements, are listed below.

Green Space

This could include a communal garden, BBQ facilities, multi-age playground, space for adult games such as boules or large scale chess and vegetable gardens.

Other possible spaces:

  • For meditation and reflection
  • For meetings
  • For recreations
  • For reading, study and media/computer
  • For cooking and communal dining
  • For parties and other events
  • For housing a shared pool of cars and bikes than can be rented

Shopping and Other Services

The following services should be an important part of any development:

  • Mini mart or convenience store (with the major supermarket being in the Claremont Quarter)
  • An office or suite of offices for an aged care provider to have a presence on the site to allow residents to access their services
  • Restaurants
  • Internet/book café
  • Laundromat
  • Hairdresser
  • Medical, dental, physiotherapy and other services. These might be supplemented by spaces for mobile medical and personal care services or other required therapies or for aged care providers

Workshop or Men’s Shed

While a men’s shed might be best sound-proofed and located at the boundaries of the development it is a good opportunity to bring the community into the spaces created in the development as Claremont is on the railway line.

Art Space

A studio (for arts/crafts) could also be a community resource as well as include a space for an “artist in residence” run by Artsource. Artsource receives core funding from the Department of Culture and the Arts and delivers services on behalf of individual artist members and the visual arts sector, in partnership with stakeholders.

Community Facility

There are a number of options such as a village hall for public hire and use by community groups, a library, child care centre, and medical and dental clinic.

What needs to exist nearby (within walking distance)

  •  Public transportpreferably on a train line.
  •  A large shopping centre.
  • Gym or other opportunity for exercise.
  • Access to walking paths in nearby parkland.

What ALIVE can give to the development

We envisage this type of development as a prototype for the concept of higher density, inclusive communities. There is an important opportunity to demonstrate best practice in social and environmental sustainability while providing for “ageing in place”.

PerthALIVE would be pleased to play a role in educating others. For instance, we could organise a roster of volunteers to staff an on-site education office that would ”sell” the concept of higher density and best practice.

In addition, if sustainability targets were set for the development, we could help educate others about their application and value.

We would also be active participants in working with others in the community to ensure good practice “place making” and are keen to partner with other organisations.  In addition, we would be willing to explore funding options for some of the cultural and recreational amenities we would wish to see included, should additional funding be deemed necessary.

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