How Affordable is Retirement Living in our Smart Cities.

Affordable Living for Australia's Seniors Discussed at 9th International Urban Design Conference.

Accessibility to well designed and affordable retirement accommodation for Australia’s older population is an ever increasing challenge for our cities. Demand for retirement living is set to double by 2027 with over 65s the fastest growing age group in Australia. By 2060, over 65s are expected to double to 7 million (18% of Australia’s population). Currently 12% of over 65s are renters with many welfare dependent on low incomes and asset poor. These statistics and the implications were addressed in a recent paper that Bennett + Bennett’s John Morwood presented at the 9th International Urban Design Conference - Smart Cities for 21st Century Australia.

Summary of key points.

Urban designers, town planners and architects descended on carcentric Canberra, the nation’s most planned “Garden City” for the 9th International Urban Design Conference. The underlying theme of the conference was Smart Cities for 21st Century Australia, and how we are contributing to achieving this lofty aim. Some of the themes discussed included questioning the ‘Smart’ brand, and whether we should be moving on from this, acknowledging that ‘Smart’ is only part of the bigger picture of city building.

After 3 days of intense, wide ranging discussion, it became apparent that our focus is best placed on good city building, ensuring that we contribute the to the creation of sustainable, technologically smart, and well-designed cities that provide increased liveability, more inclusive and cleverly designed green spaces, with low energy buildings and affordable housing.

Professor Edward Blakely proposed that our cities are not getting ‘smart’, and that we have much to learn, suggesting that a smart alternative may be to remove the concept of zoning altogether and create greater opportunities for performance planning, being where development achieves particular built form and urban design outcomes rather than use focussed restrictions.

Disruptive technologies such as Uber and Airbnb and their significance in how they affect city building, as well as autonomous cars and the concept of data-controlled cities were also canvassed.

Housing affordability was a clear theme underpinning many discussions, including the challenges Australia is currently facing in housing seniors that cannot afford to buy in to retirement housing. Appropriate density coupled with good urban design outcomes, whether in high density inner city areas, the ‘missing middle’, or eco-villages on the urban fringe also took centre stage.

The role of government and the community in contributing to good urban design and planning outcomes through independent review and community engagement was an area of much discussion and debate.

In summary, the conference concluded that the planning and design profession has much to contribute to the creation of our ‘Smart Cities’ of the 21st century in Australia, and that this can only be achieved by having a holistic vision for our cities that is not exclusionary and that accelerates sustainable outcomes. We need to be smarter in how we plan and manage our cities, consider how we react and interact with smarter technologies, but also move beyond limited conceptions of technological fixes to address long standing urban challenges and problems.

Should you require further information regarding the conference proceedings, or retirement living analysis and development opportunities, please contact John Morwood on (07) 3839 7200.

International Urban Design Conference

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