Communities of the future: a redesign for the way we live, supporting and involving all ages

As we live longer and no longer retire fully at 65, we have to think creatively about designing a new kind of community, where we’re all active citizens and caring is valued, says Georgina Lee

Ageing needs a redesign, with creative thinking at the heart of finding new solutions to the problems associated with growing older. Along with the accompanying design process, creative thinking must be at the heart of how we create a more positive future. 

Creative thinking ought not be held back by ‘knowledge’, which can curtail new ideas. With knowledge comes too much understanding of all the current realities, problems, reasons not to do something and “we can’t”. 

If we rely too much on experts to help answer the questions, we limit the possibilities of unimagined opportunities. Let’s involve a new role, that of the anti-expert.

Designers thrive on new problems and the more difficult the better. They come to the issue fresh, with no fear, with empathy and a desire to make things better. Working together in a common place with a common vision, designers and experts can find those new positive solutions that we need.

How retirement in Britain is changing

The design process has to be key to a world in which we no longer go into full retirement at age 60 or 65. We need to embrace the ‘anything is possible’ attitude. Design is at its core optimistic and designers are trained to be courageous about the future.

We know we need to change the story and see the future as hopeful and optimistic. We have to rethink our future. But we have to move quickly.

Design also puts change in motion. It generates ideas, then prototypes, and while the first iteration might not be perfect it proves that we don’t have to be stuck and there is are new ways.

Through creative thinking and a design process we can quickly rethink some of the biggest challenges we face. This is my vision for the key areas of community and caring:

1. Design new communities around the needs of everyone, supporting fulfilling, purposeful lives 

The co-design and co-development approach must involve all stakeholders and be wrested from control by local authorities and powerful self-serving organisations. Community redesign must be free, fast and dynamic, and unburdened by red tape, policies and guidelines.

Community design must also be boundless and incorporate the needs of all citizens, from birth to 100, regardless of age, ability, health and dependence. Design hubs can help to optimise the provision of education, health, care and employment services and drive seamless integration and accessibility for all.

2. Become active citizens, all shaping dynamic, flexible and resilient communities

UK citizenry is passive, complacent and yet also unsatisfied and disgruntled. Community action is seen as a waste of time, as something that is bound to come up against a brick wall sooner or later. Let’s start to change this, to get people thinking more positively and believing that, together, positive community-based change can happen.

3. Redesign care services and reaffirm the value of caring

The concept of care – the glue that binds families, friends and social networks – has become generally misunderstood, misrepresented and misused. The care industry (social care, care working, long-term residential care) needs to be blue-sky/blank-sheet rethought. The cared-for are too ignored, overlooked, disempowered. We need to enable all citizens to live life to the fullest, in the most supportive and enabling community design.

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