Better integration of master-planned developments would reduce social isolation of older people

A briefing for investors and developers for housing for older people; healthy ageing organisations and activists; also for urban planners, urban designers, architects, policy makers.

Master-planned community developments can provide safe, walkable, and accessible living environments for the older age residents. They can thus contribute to the social health of residents and help to enhance their overall health and wellbeing.

However, we found that the exclusive amenities usually provided in these developments contribute to a lack of social connection between their residents and people living outside the boundary. This, in turn, results in a sense of social and physical segregation from the society and city life outside the development. Increasing access to amenities and public spaces outside the master-planned community developments is required. This can encourage the residents to engage in social activities outside the developments, reducing concern of isolation. Increased access can be achieved through deliberately locating master-planned community developments in higher density urban environments, with better public transport services, and good quality walking infrastructure.

We already know: A large part of the master-planned community industry, particularly the age-segregated developments, such as retirement villages, accommodates older age groups. Most of these developments provide the residents with a ‘ready-made’ community to join immediately on moving into the development. The provision of ‘community’ in these developments is often emphasised by the development companies in promotional features or marketing tools. It has even been stated that ‘community’ is offered as a ‘desirable amenity’ to prospective residents, a commodity, designed and produced by the development companies.

What’s new: Common areas and leisure centres in master-planned community developments offer a range of social activities. The high level of perceived safety, walkability, and the provision of aesthetically attractive areas within these developments supports their use. However, we found that the exclusive amenities provided in these developments contributed to a lack of social connection between their residents and people living outside the developments. This, in turn, resulted in a sense of social and physical segregation from society outside the boundaries of these developments. Opportunities for social engagement outside the development can, and should be supported.

Implications for city policy and practice: Social isolation of older people needs to be addressed through built environment measures. Master-planned community developments for older people need to be located in high density, mixed-use urban environments with increased access to a range of service centres and public spaces. These developments must be linked with well-connected street layouts and walking infrastructure to allow good access to surrounding urban amenities and services. Other avenues for city policy and practice include re/designing nearby urban parks to create aesthetically attractive spaces to encourage older people to walk outside their residential developments. There is also a need to provide accessible and flexible public transport services to facilitate a wider range of engagement in different social activities, particularly when older people stop driving. Taken together, these factors would allow the residents of master-planned communities to engage with social activities outside their developments; so decreasing concerns about social segregation.

Full article:  Master-planned communities for the ageing population: How sociable are they? 

Authors: Sara Alidoust (@Sara_alidoust) and Caryl Bosman (@boccboz)