We tend to think of our city as youthful, dynamic and active. And so it is – London has a higher percentage of people in the 18-35 age group than England and Wales as a whole and a slightly higher one in the 36-55 range too. Beyond that bracket, though, we fall behind. And that is going to change.
A new report from Future of London asks if the capital is ready for an approaching boom in London’s older population as greater numbers of them eschew retirement to the seaside and, if not, how to get London ready and soon. The number of Londoners over the age of 60 is expected to rise by 48% to two million by 2035 and more and more of them want to carry on living in the city. This will place demands on local health and other services and create new ones for places to live that are good to grow older in.
What kinds of places might that be. The report points out a vast gap in the market between sheltered housing at one end of the spectrum and and very expensive properties at the other. Loneliness is an acute and hidden problem for many old people everywhere. How can London best address it? The more of a struggle stairs become and the fewer children Londoners in their 50s have around, the more logical downsizing becomes. But what and where do you downsize too, if there’s a lack of suitable dwellings?
Better options for moving to somewhere smaller could have a beneficial effect on overall housing supply across the age range. The Future of London report cites Greater London Authority figures showing that more than half of London’s older homeowners have two or more bedrooms that are unused in homes that could help meet London’s need for more family-sized accommodation, but understandable anxiety about moving is scarcely lessened by the limited alternatives available.
It isn’t just a question of selling up and buying a nice new flat. When you’re older, your needs are different. Your independence might be waning. The design of the housing needs to be right, as does its immediate environment.
There is a big role for planners and architects in all this, enshrining access to health care, suitable transport, and safety in the home and neighbourhood in their thinking about neighbourhoods that meet older people’s needs. The report also showcases the New Ground co-housing project for older women in Barnet, put together with architects Pollard Thomas Edwards (who were also behind the widely praised regeneration of the Packington estate in Islington).
The challenge of housing older Londoners is yet another to arise from London’s success. Future of London’s report is called Are We Ready For The Boom? Find some answers here.