The baby boomer generation has quite a different ideal and set of requirements when it comes to aged care and retirement living, which, it is argued, could challenge the traditional model.

Research done by Dr Debbie Faulkner at the Flinders Institute of Housing, Urban and Regional Research at Flinders University suggests baby boomers want to live in the general community, not necessarily in retirement villages. Under the current model, many residents feel institutionalised and fenced in. Furthermore, they don’t think that they are old at 65. They are fitter and healthier than previous generations and are instead looking to start a new form of life.

Urban design, from a macro perspective, and landscape design from a micro perspective, can help clients in the sector rethink how they go about planning their developments.


In many cultures – notably in Asia and Europe – the tradition of keeping the family group together to the end remains. In Australia, the trend appears to be the opposite, whether that is through necessity or due to a breakdown in values. Whatever the reasons, the transition from the family home to down-sized accommodation does not have to be extreme.

The enclave of single-storey, homogenous units often associated with retirement living in the suburbs is the antithesis of the idea of connectivity to a broader community that the new generation of retirees crave.

Increasing density, diversity and maintaining a compact feel improves connections with neighbours and access to essential amenities.

standard macro model

Smaller sites can actually work better in that they provide the beneficial trade-off of being better integrated with a broader community and the possibility of being close to public transport and accessible to healthcare.

The challenge comes with economies of scale, and it is understood that bigger sites further out provide more initial value, but good urban design can still help locate these facilities more appropriately and integrate them within existing communities. Residents want to feel visible, not hidden away.


Roger Ulrich, PhD, probably the most cited and influential evidence-based healthcare design researcher in the world, extols the benefits of exposure to nature.

Creating an environment that encourages residents to interact with each other by leaving their units will have both physical and mental benefits.

Figures for dementia suffers suggest numbers will increase from 175,000 in 2003 to almost 465,000 in 2031. Simple site layouts which are easy to navigate with clear wayfinding is arguably step one.

Keeping the site as flat as possible will encourage walking, while keeping vehicles out, which can often be confusing, will enhance the safety of the site. A pedestrian-friendly community feel also provides more opportunity for landscape architects to create far more pleasant environments.

improved macro model

Spaces that have both shaded and sunny areas are of equal importance. This allows both areas of rest and zones to take in vitamin D, with deficiency thereof a growing concern in the elderly and an increasing contributor to fractures and breaks after falls.

The configuration then needs to enable socialisation. Designing the space, of course, is just part of the solution and management of the spaces with appropriate activities is just as important.

Within the units themselves, the traditional model sees residents with just two-metre gardens to their backfence – if they are lucky. Not everyone, of course, wants or is capable of looking after their own outside space but current provision means it is either space that is simply not utilised or it is meagre and isolated. If it is not appropriate or possible to increase personal space, it is much better, in line with the concept of socialising spaces, to have a central area where residents can work together to grow vegetables, look after chooks, and play with grandchildren.

dean thorntonGood landscape and urban design provides the opportunity to de-institutionalise aged care environments. It can help balance a feeling of security and safety with independence and ensure residents can remain actively engaged with the community. As the population gets older, it is important to reconsider traditional designs to ensure we create facilities of the highest quality. Many of us, after all, are likely to end up here.

Dean Thornton
Discipline Leader – Urban & Landscape Design at Meinhardt