Royal Australian Institute of Architects Conference
Royal Australian Institute of Architects Conference with the Hon Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Ageing.
View by date:Previous Ministers
PDF printable version of this page (43kb)
22 April 2005
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Could I acknowledge Warren Kerr, the President of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, members, delegates, distinguished speakers. I am delighted to be at this forum about Designing the Future within the Royal Australian Institute of Architects’ national conference in the Institute’s 75th year.
As Warren mentioned, a few years back, before politics, in another life, I was a lawyer and I was appointed the Chairman of the Town Planning Appeal Tribunal over in Western Australia. This Tribunal would hear and determine appeals against primary planning decisions across Western Australia. It also included Christmas and Cocos Islands.
It was a quasi-judicial appointment. We had hearings and evidence was given, and lawyers represented the parties. Our judgements were reported in the State reports and there were appeals to the Supreme Court. So, I immersed myself in the mysterious world of planning, zoning and design.
During the inevitable steep learning curve I came to appreciate the interconnecting roles between architects and designers and planners and builders, let alone governments, that not just influenced the built environment, but influenced the health and wellbeing of whole communities. It was where I first heard of contemporary planning concepts. Back then it was all about the ‘New Urbanism’. It was rather a controversial planning philosophy at the time, I recall, conceived by a group of maverick architects and planners in the US in the early 1980s.
The New Urbanism began as a reaction against urban sprawl, and the social and environmental consequences of some 50 years of conventional suburban development in the US – just think Los Angeles – where restrictive zoning policies and planning design had suppressed diversity and individuality and character in suburbs and subdivisions. Essentially, the New Urbanism sought to create or recreate traditional neighbourhoods, incorporating interrelated patterns of land use and transportation and urban form, to create human scale walkable communities, intended to foster the most desirable aspects of human habitation - ‘neighbourliness’, environmental sustainability, economic efficiency and prosperity, historic preservation, participation in community and civic affairs, and overall health and wellbeing.
I recall that the New Urbanism was embodied by the town of Seaside in Florida, which featured these safe and inviting streets and tree-lined footpaths and neighbourhood centres with mixed uses, residential and business and commercial, schools located within walking distance of homes, parks and village greens. And there was something called the ‘ice cream test’ – if a village would allow an eight year old child to walk to the corner store to buy an ice cream in a safe and secure manner without having to battle freeways and highways, well, then it was New Urbanism at its best.
While this concept of New Urbanism has been embraced in some towns and cities across the US, of course it had its critics. It was too utopian, too much style over substance, aesthetics over practicalities. But for me, at that time, it contained an essential, enduring truth, that to achieve functional, sustainable communities, we must improve the health and wellbeing and quality of life of the individuals in it. We cannot do that unless we pay attention to how we design our living environments, the buildings we live in, the buildings we work in, the landscapes around us.
So, back to the future. The challenge for Australia in the 21st century is how to respond to the profound demographic shift that is facing this nation – population ageing – where our increasing life expectancy, one of highest life expectancies in the world, coupled with a decreasing birthrate, not the lowest in the world but certainly below replacement level, has meant that the number of people over 65 is growing, increasing both numerically and proportionately. Today, one in eight Australians is over 65, tomorrow one in four.
The Intergenerational Report, which the Treasurer released a couple of years ago, and the Productivity Commission report, which was released last week, has given us the picture of the economic implications of an ageing Australia. The ageing pressures will accelerate as that baby boomer generation, those born between 1946 and ’64, turn 60. The first of them turn 60 next year, and are looking towards retirement. Economic growth will reduce due to a decline in labour force participation. There will be increasing demand in health and aged care and pension needs. Age-related spending is expected to exceed tax revenue by 2045 to the tune of a gap of 6.5 per cent of GDP. That is around $2000 billion by 2045.
These predictions are only correct if we currently do nothing. If we do nothing now, these predictions will occur. Of course that’s not the case. The government has been putting in place policy settings to do with labour force and workforce participation, a sustainable health system, a sustainable aged care system, looking at making retirement incomes more flexible and at appropriate levels.
Inevitably this issue of population ageing sends a negative message about ageing and about older people. We shouldn’t see it as a problem, or a burden. The fact is we are living longer and healthier lives, and that ought to be a cause for celebration. But we need to plan for it, as individuals, as families, as professionals, as governments. That includes planning how and where we will live, how it is going to look. We need to adopt a holistic approach. And architects have an extremely important role to play.
What we should add to the debate about population ageing is an analysis of the values and attitudes and expectations of the next older generation, the baby boomers. That is the bubble of the population coming down the pipeline. They are living longer, healthier lives. They will be wealthier than any previous generation. To generalise, they are seen as less accepting, less conforming, less trusting, more demanding, more individual, more consumer-oriented (I know, I’m one of them).
How will baby boomers, the next older generation, want to live their extra 20 or 30 years beyond traditional retirement ages? In fact, if today’s older generation can be a guide, the trend is already there for us to read.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics tell us that 90 per cent of Australians aged 60 and over live in private dwellings. We know from our own aged care planning ratios that less than 10 per cent of people over the age of 70 ever enter residential aged care facilities. People needing care increasingly want care delivered to them at home or in their community.
That’s why the government has responded in such a significant way with massive increases in funding for community care. While of course we are putting funding and reforms into residential aged care to meet the current demand, the future demand will be in community care, the delivery of packages of care at home in the community. Funding is already in place in the form of payments and allowances to carers so that they can support people to live at home.
The residential aged care sector has also undergone transformation due significant government reform and significant funding increases. As I visit homes across Australia I suggest that it is unrecognisable in terms of the architectural design and the layout and the building standards and the amenity, unrecognisable from 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago.
In the past, private sector residential care was generally comprised of converted suburban and urban dwellings which essentially were ill-fitted for the purpose to which they were put. In the charitable and State government sectors older people were often accommodated in large, ward-like rooms offering little privacy or personal dignity and nothing meeting a home-like atmosphere.
But this is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. This old building stock is being replaced. For in 1998 the Australian Government introduced certification into the aged care sector. This was a program over 10 years to ensure that all aged care homes which received subsidies from the Australian Government for the cost of care, would be upgraded, renovated, refurbished or new homes built to very high standards to cover issues of fire and safety, privacy and amenity. Architects are developing plans and designs for aged care homes that are more individually-centred, person-centred, as well as being operationally efficient.
So the focus of care for older Australians has shifted from an emphasis on institutional care to enabling people to age in the community with the support of family and friends, and that if they need residential care, that it is very much in a home-like environment and atmosphere. Ageing-in-place has become the mantra for caring for older Australians.
This presents both opportunities and challenges for the architectural profession and planning profession to ensure that housing can be adapted to the needs of older people, whose needs will change, and who may become frail or lack mobility, be subject to falls or to chronic physical incapacity.
Baby boomers will approach old age in a different way, as they have done everything else in their lives. The challenge will be to come up with innovative ways to meet their expectations, their expectations of choice, and options and flexibility, as to how they are going to live their lives. I suspect that the ‘new’ older generation will lean towards living in different kinds of communities. So urban, transport and housing design should be flexible enough to meet people’s changing needs.
Technology opens up options for people to remain at home longer, in ‘smart houses’ that provide online technology for security, or for healthcare or even telemedicine, links with their GP. Of course baby boomers have absorbed online technology already.
The built environment shapes our mobility, our independence, autonomy, and quality of life in older age. It can also help, or indeed impede, our quest for a healthy lifestyle at all ages. The design of houses and home environments for older people, recreational public spaces, neighbourhood facilities, public transport, urban planning, all have important consequences. None more so for an ageing population.
Of course, many of Australia’s baby boomers will be ageing in Australia’s traditional urban environments and rural communities, which really were designed for another purpose, a different-looking family composition. I suspect that few of these places would be ready to meet their overall future needs.
For example, they will be ageing in free-standing, large family homes in low density suburbs served by transport systems designed mainly for cars. Yes, our built environment is already undergoing major change. But these changes need the input of more design innovation, and considerable acceleration, if they are to meet the desires and needs and expectations of our new old.
The value of Australia’s housing stock is estimated some $2000 billion. An increasing proportion of this stock is owned by older Australians. So, will this housing stock meet the accommodation and locational needs of people as they grow older? That is the $2000 billion question that could have significant impact on the Australian economy.
Architects and planners and governments should work together to capture substantial opportunities to improve the efficiency of the nation’s built environment, which has involved such a huge national infrastructure investment.
Our existing infrastructure is there to be reshaped through imaginative maintenance and refurbishment and reuse. This could also improve our environmental sustainability and energy efficiency, and reduce the need for costly new greenfields developments.
Of course, many of the “new” old have housing needs far more complex than what is currently available. But we are making headway. I believe that this conference will update you on the latest research in Australia and internationally into ageing-friendly dwelling configurations, including elements like community-based monitoring programs, in conjunction with smart houses and environmental design, to enable older Australians to age-in-place.
Debates such as will be in this conference are helping to spark perhaps un-thought-of benefits for ageing and the build environment. But we should be planning now to meet the likely behaviours and attitudes and values of the baby boomers. So, just as the New Urbanism was a reaction against sprawl, future housing and built environment design could be a reaction against negative stereotypes about ageing and offer more appropriate lifestyle options. Such as spaces and facilities for recreation and leisure in safe and refreshing environments, and enable self-management of health at home, with technologies to assist working from home in transition to retirement, enabling continuing education throughout life, designs offering more opportunities for walking (or running as the case may be), more social contact.
The Australian Government has been promoting housing that meets the changing needs of older Australians through our sponsorship of the National Lifestyle for Seniors Awards, and the Planning for an Ageing Community Award. These are part of the National Local Government Awards.
Purpose-built environments for growth and learning and physical activity and creativity should be within the reach of all of us. Designing for an ageing population is not just about designing for older people. It is designing for the future for young and old alike. So we need design that fits us all, and fits the way we choose to live, regardless of age.
Architecture and design can contribute in a major way to developing a new Australian culture of active, productive, healthy ageing. What is needed, I believe, in our current dialogue on population ageing, is a debate, a national debate, about designing our living environments. I am pleased to be able to announce today, here, a new initiative - the Australian Government’s support, along with partners like the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, for a National Speakers’ Series on Designing the Future. We propose that a series of Designing the Future forums will be held in cities, and territories and regional and rural areas across Australia, commencing later this year.
The focus would be on parts of the built environment of particular importance – houses, workplaces and public spaces in the general community. Designing for human wellbeing, whether it be social, or physical or cultural. The Office of an Ageing Australia, within the Department of Health and Ageing, is in the early stages of planning this series and we hope to engage many of you here today to identify and discuss issues concerning the design of buildings, to community spaces, workplaces and urban design.
Out of these sessions we hope to get practical solutions for the short, medium and hopefully longer term to improve the built environment and to get a framework for policy development, planning and design - for the government, for the architectural sector, the planning sector and for the community overall. We will bring together professionals and people from relevant organisations, hopefully nationally and internationally, involved in creating the places where we live, where we work, where we play.
This National Speakers’ Series will build on the momentum of this conference and it will be an opportunity for us to demonstrate good design, innovative planning, can lead to positive attitudes, and can help create a community for all ages. I look forward to your participation.
When accessing large documents (over 500 KB in size), it is recommended that the following procedure be used:
- Click the link with the RIGHT mouse button
- Choose "Save Target As.../Save Link As..." depending on your browser
- Select an appropriate folder on a local drive to place the downloaded file
Attempting to open large documents within the browser window (by left-clicking)
may inhibit your ability to continue browsing while the document is
opening and/or lead to system problems.
To view PDF (Portable Document Format) documents, you will need to have a PDF reader installed on your computer. A number of PDF readers are available through the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) Web Guide website.