The Future of Ageing-in-Place: a new well-being agenda for local high streets

Dec 2, 2015 | BLOG

By: Luca Brunelli, Ryan Woolrych & Harry Smith

This blog is one in a series of blogs on the Future of Ageing, published in the lead up to the ILC-UK Future of Ageing conference on the 24th November. To register to attend this conference, click here.

Meeting the challenges of an ageing population has generated debate on the types of supportive environments needed to enable older adults to retain a sense of independence and well-being.

Ageing-successfully-in-place goes beyond achieving a person-environment fit between housing characteristics and personal needs, for example, through the use of aids and adaptations around the home. For many older people it means the chance to be connected to the community and participate in local civic and social life. In the UK local high streets have been traditionally at the core of everyday life in towns and cities. They can provide an opportunity to support ageing-in-place, as a setting to access amenities and services and a focal point for the community. In spite of the perceived decline of local high streets, these settings can also offer material and social opportunities for improving the well-being of older people, contributing to the design of age friendly communities that support aging-in-place.

Our research suggests that several dimensions of well-being can be supported in these locales. Going out and about at the local high street can be an enjoyable everyday activity tapping into positive emotions and happiness, and leading to feelings of attachment and belonging. From fleeting to more intimate social interactions, local high streets may provide places and opportunities for reducing isolation and provide a restorative experience away from the home. As “community-hubs”, high streets can provide opportunities that support participation and role fulfilment in old age. Finally, local high streets can support personal autonomy and independence, fostering a sense of control and allowing for completion of activities of everyday living.

The research revealed numerous aspects of local high streets that can be improved to enhance well-being in later life. A new agenda for age-friendly streets should include at least three main areas of intervention. Affordable housing provision, in close proximity and co-located next to high streets would support personal autonomy and independence, drawing on local existing infrastructure, facilities and services, whilst increasing footfall on the high street. A new culture of pedestrian-friendly and walkable environments should be encouraged, considering how sensory and cognitive changes can be integrated into transport infrastructure, streetscapes, and premises. Land use and business improvement policies should consider business rate discretionary relief and other incentives in order to achieve adequate clustering of mixed uses, including public services, community spaces and a variety of informal settings – e.g. cafes and other spaces for social interaction.

Finally, all the above cannot be achieved without providing spaces for civic engagement to tap older people’s capabilities and experience establishing a virtuous circle between their engagement in the design of the future high streets, and the well-being of the whole community. Investment in our high streets is needed to ensure that they remain a supportive environment for older adults, and as such an inclusive and enjoyable place for all.

Luca Brunelli, Ryan Woolrych, Harry Smith
Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society School
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

Luca Brunelli:

Luca Brunelli, Ryan Woolrych and Harry Smith

Currently engaged in doctoral research on ageing population and urban design at the School of Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.