The new village – placemaking for retirement communities

Marisa on December 13, 2018

We hear a lot about our aging population in Australia.  While 15% of the population was aged over 65 in 2017, in just 10 years the figure is projected to grow to 18% or over 5 million people. Although many older Australians may wish to remain in their own homes as they age, demand for retirement community living is growing.  According to the Property Council of Australia, approximately 382,000 Australians will be seeking retirement community or village by 2025 – around double the figure today.

In line with demand, expectations of retirement community living are also changing. Today’s consumers are demanding more of the retirement experience and villages must evolve to take these new expectations into account.


Redefining Retirement

Ideally, the transition to retirement signals freedom, flexibility and more time to spend on the activities you want.  The retirement period age (roughly between 65 and 80 years) is being redefined as the ‘third age’ in many Western countries –

“ the span of time between retirement and the beginning of age-imposed physical, emotional, and cognitive limitations…a period of adulthood when typically there are fewer responsibilities (e.g., career and family-rearing) than before and, when coupled with adequate financial resources and good physical and psychological health, offers rich possibilities for self- fulfillment, purposeful engagement, and completion.”

Baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) are the first generation to experience this ‘third age’ with this new expectation of a decade or two of relatively healthy life after retirement. This generation, often referred to as the wealthiest in Australia, has grown accustomed to lifestyles and places that deliver more than their basic needs.


Expectations of the modern retiree

While baby boomers are not one monocultural group, there are certain characteristics of these new retirees overall. Retirement is now considered a time for the “forever young” and the young at heart.  The new generation of retirees is digitally connected, well-travelled and worldly, urban, accustomed to the gig economy (they may be semi rather than fully retired, dipping in and out of the workforce as they wish), and represents a wide range of family structures.

Common expectations that affect their aspirations for retirement community living and influence their choices include:

  • They are unwilling to compromise on lifestyle – the goal is to ‘upstyle’ not just to ‘downsize’
  • Buying into a thriving community is a key desire and driver – it’s the time of their lives to go out, meet friends, wine and dine and learn something new
  • Retirement product is just part of the mix, not the mix itself. It must be there if they need it but is not the central proposition.

At the heart of it all is lifestyle, amenity, convenience and choice. Australia’s new retirees want to lock up and leave, so they can continue travelling and experiencing new cultures while they are in good health. They expect to access cosmopolitan conveniences at their doorstep, and not be sequestered in a gated village. And they want options about their environment – the choice to live by the sea, in the heart of the city or among the trees of our urban fringes.


Place making and retirement villages

The principles of what makes a great place are centred on the user experience, comfort and amenity, reflecting local culture and identity. The modern-day drivers around retirement living are starting to line up with these. The place-based philosophy has a central role to place in the design of residential and aged care facilities to provide space, freedom and privacy options for seniors to live the life they choose.

Older Australians have the same basic needs and drivers as younger ones in terms of place: they want to spend time in places that are attractive, safe, comfortable and welcoming and where there are things to see and do.

From a place making perspective there are key principles that underpin and define our approach:

  • The user is the expert
  • We ask, we don’t tell. We seek observations from retirees about what they want in a place, including things that are working well and aspects that could be improved. This process not only helps us receive valuable ideas and observations but creates a sense of ownership over the place.
  • Everywhere is a place
  • Places aren’t created in isolation or on a blank canvas. Part of place making is identifying existing assets and building off them – be they parks, buildings, services such as medical offices, or streetscapes.
  • Flexible, adaptable and intergenerational
  • The true litmus test of a successful place is often considered to be whether both children and older people are using and enjoying it. The secret is to plan for both ends of the life spectrum and those of us in the middle will slot in.  Toronto not-for-profit 880’s founder Gil Penalosa has a simple philosophy:
  • “We believe that if everything we do in our cities is great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, then it will be great for all people.”
  • A strong place narrative
  • Places should have their own, recognisable spirit and story.  The ingredients of history and heritage, the community of users, visual identity and more all go into constructing a unique and recognisable story that contributes to a sense of place.
  • Connections and networks
  • The challenge for in delivering new places as the population grows is keeping walkability at the heart.  The physical and psychological benefits of walking are well known and more people on the street means greater opportunities for social connection, support for the local economy and an increased sense of safety and security. Streets are the perfect place for life to unfold – creating a social scape for people to connect at different life stages, through social media and traditional community networks.  Good place design welcomes people into the streets and public realm and encourages them to stay longer.

The Place Proposition of the new retirement village

Within the place mix for retirement villages, competitive place positioning will place an increasingly important role.  Older consumers are no longer content to find a place to while away their sunset years but want a lifestyle that they can truly enjoy and make the most of.

The Place Proposition is first built by asking:

  • Who are the user groups?
  • What will they need and want?
  • What will the place look and feel like?
  • Why will it be unique and special?
  • What will define its success?

Once the proposition is defined, its design and product mix, positioning and branding, marketing and place management are all factors that will lead to a user desiring one option over another – much like any other consumer choice. 


Making retirement living part of the mix in Iluka

The Beaumaris Beach Estate in Iluka is one of Perth’s northern suburbs’ most sought-after coastal destinations.  OP Properties and Brightwater Care Group are developing a $70 million village centre integrating retirement living, apartments and a local retail and food and beverage offer to complement the existing high-quality public amenity and established homes.

element was engaged to craft a vision for the development. The challenge was to create a village precinct that would redefine intergenerational living and deliver greater housing choice, local employment opportunities and amenity, all integrated into the community.

Applying a place making lens to this project helped to define:

  • What will make it a special place;
  • Why people will want to go there – and what will keep them coming back;
  • How the village centre will be connected physically and culturally to the spirit of the local area;
  • How each component (retirement, residential, community and commercial) will work together in a cohesive way; and
  • How the team can innovate at every turn to redefine intergenerational living, leverage project strengths and build brand capital at a corporate and project level.



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Our work resulted in the development of a Place Blueprint to define the qualities and essence of the Beaumaris Beach Precinct, informed by the needs of its end users. Odyssea residences at Beaumaris Park will provide the retirement component of the development, with 58 private two or three bedroom residences centred around a landscaped central area. The villages will feature premium finishes with common areas including resort style facilities such as a heated pool, gym, lounge and library, entertaining spaces and landscaped garden areas.

The residences are being marketed with a lifestyle focus to the ‘young at heart’ seeking low maintenance ‘lock up and leave’ living and a resort style lifestyle. Pending a positive DA outcome, Brightwater are targeting construction to commence on their proposed development around mid-2019, with the first residents expected to move in early 2021.