Retirement in the 21st century retirement is a bit a fuzzy. Is it a function of age? Does it happen when we qualify for superannuation? Does it depend on paying off the mortgage? Is it something we decide on, or is it decided for us? In New Zealand, even the official age of retirement – qualifying for the pension at 65 – is up for debate.
The tradition of an abrupt end to working life is changing, whether from necessity or choice. For some people it’s about priorities, rebalancing rather than swapping lifestyles. Some may need to work because of financial or family circumstance, others because it’s what they know and enjoy. Casual work, mentoring or volunteering, working from home and part-time work are all viable alternatives to outright retirement today.
From rest home to retirement village
And the rest home, where one faded into the Sunset (often a name of choice for such homes) has given way to the retirement village, with connotations of an active community encompassing a range of lifestyles and interests. Villages offer varied housing choices, too, from small detached and semi-detached dwellings, through terrace units and apartments, to dependent living facilities and nursing units. Arrangements are flexible and adaptable – key words when thinking about our individual and collective futures in uncertain times.
Residents may still be working. They may be totally mobile and independent, or they may choose to draw on shared transport services. Transport needs are further reduced because villages typically offer gymnasia, bowls, swimming pools, other recreation amenities, and restaurant facilities on-site. They offer security in generally pleasant grounds, sometimes with the capacity to develop gardens within private spaces. All this adds up to why even people under 60 seek to move into them. It doesn’t necessarily make for demographic balance or social diversity, but it does cater to the varying needs of a growing group of people.
A pointer for urban design
Retirement villages also provide a physical model of how we might best achieve higher density living in urban areas. In fact, as Mark pointed out, they could play a significant part in shaping Auckland (and other cities) over the coming decades. Integrated villages offer the prospect of economical construction, higher residential densities, economies of scale in service delivery, and reduced transport demand. So they provide something of an exemplar when we think about where people might prefer to live in a resource-constrained future.
Villages in the suburbs – the case of Auckland
The Retirement Village Association has 280 members throughout New Zealand. I looked at the locations of its 61 Auckland-based members.
First I mapped them using Google Earth. This shows a wide distribution throughout the city and surrounds, from the town of Warkworth in the north (Totara Park Village) to Pukekohe (Palms) in the south. The Hibiscus Coast (Maygrove, Red Beach, etc) with it coastal environment north of the metropolitan area is a popular locality. Overall, though, there is quite a wide spread across the urbanised area (Mayfair to Longford Park).
|Location of Retirement Villages, Auckland|
I also used Google Earth to plot the road distances to the CBD. There is only one within the Inner City Ring (as described in my last blog, Ageing in the City), none within the CBD, and only two within 5km of it. 11 villages lie between 5 and 15km away, covering the Isthmus and immediate surrounds (lower north, inner west, and upper south), with the biggest group (19 villages) falling in the heart of the post-war suburbs, 15 to 20km distant, and 19 over 20km away.
|Distance of retirement Villages from Auckland CBD|
This pattern of dispersal, together with the tendency for older people to favour living some distance from the CBD as described in the previous posting does not support the contention that the future of an ageing population lies in the CBD, even if there is a small minority who through preference or as a result of personal history will do so.
A sustainable choice
Retirement villages offer an insight into alternative ways of increasing the density of settlement and reducing society’s demands on resources. And they do not rely on over-regulating land use to do so. In fact, they most likely benefit from an approach that encourages innovation in development and design.
They also capture some the principles associated with increasing the attractiveness of medium density living, including privacy and personal space, security, and quality housing and fittings. These are attributes which compensate for smaller houses, and offer the added advantages of shared transport, accessible services, and local amenities, generally without requiring people to move away from the neighbourhoods within which they have their roots.
|Knightsbridge Village, Mairangi Bay, Auckland|
A cursory survey of the Auckland villages indicates that most are close to shopping centres, with their attendant restaurants and cafes, and personal, financial and medical services. So the day to day needs of residents are easily served near their homes, while the villages themselves have good access to trade and medical services.
Retirement Villages provide one physical solution to the economic challenges of developing and constructing medium density housing identified by Matt H. Assuming that the costs of site acquisition are not excessive and development is straightforward, the village model can deliver affordable density in the suburban and city edge environments preferred by many of our ageing (retiring and not-so retiring) citizens.
Village dwellings are not necessarily cheap, although there are third sector examples which offer fewer frills for increased affordability. The majority, though, are pitched at households with reasonable equity on hand, or who can structure funding to facilitate purchase through such devices as reverse mortgages.
One positive spin-off from the proliferation of retirement villages is the release of second hand housing to the market, enabling more young families to satisfy their aspirations for a detached home on its own site in the suburbs, and perhaps increasing opportunities for infill in the suburbs. Consequently, successful multi-housing developments of this sort will create positive ripples throughout the housing market.
Making it work
By and large, the companies that have driven the retirement housing sector have done it well. They have consequently been good financial performers. They have created a product that has proven popular in the market. They have integrated uses on sites, applied good design, and created density without losing the sense of space. This is a sector that we can expect to grow. It’s also a sector in which the private sector has shown the way ahead.
Perhaps the main weakness of the retirement village is a social one – the limits imposed by a homogeneous age and social structure, with the richness of diversity lost. But that does not mean that integrated villages in the suburbs catering for more mixed communities would not work. Broadening the scope of such developments may well be a useful tool in the toolbox of planners seeking to cater for more people on less land.
The capacity to locate such villages on large enough sites in appropriate locations will be critical. They may be located on brownfields, converted from other uses in good localities. But most are likely to be away from the centre (and those that are close by are likely to be among the more expensive), with many close to the edge of the city where real economies can be achieved. Wherever they are located, encouraging the development of retirement - and non-retirement – villages will be an important key to providing for a more sustainable city as it grows and ages.