Busy high streets but no shops, grand designs for housing generations of families or global urban house swaps?

Over the next twenty years the number of people aged over 60 in the UK is expected to increase by 40 per cent and our post-retirement years will be longer and healthier. By 2040, and no longer a minority group, the over 60 ‘active third ager’ will have substantially greater economic, social and political power.   

How will this massive demographic phenomena change our cities? Building Futures, the think tank of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), has published a new report exploring some of the economic and social changes that a dominant ageing population will bring in the next 30 years.

The report describes a future where people may choose luxurious, international retirement lifestyles or live with their generations of their families in one grand design. Our beleaguered high streets could take on a new lease of life, with health hubs, child care facilities and universities and. our coastal towns, traditionally favoured by older generations but currently facing big social and economic challenges, could all be transformed by a more active retired population 

The RIBA Building Futures report Silver linings: The Active Third Age and the City illustrates six future scenarios in which ‘active third agers’ have made a huge impact on our towns and cities: Each possibility has been explored to inspire ideas and provoke debate.

  1. Members’ Club Mansion Block: A New Urban Lifestyle -Traveling the world and staying in hostels is an idea more often associated with student gap years. In 2040, the next generation of third agers could have turned the idea on its head. Non-essential material possessions disposed of and without the burden of property ownership, an international network of residences could replace home ownership allowing this generation to explore the world in style and comfort. 
  1. Reinventing the Family Home – In this scenario, the traditional nuclear family’s time is over and an increase in multi-generational living has begun to shape exciting new types of homes capable of meeting the needs of the whole family. In a world where healthcare and childcare is costly, this option will be a necessity for some, but provide a way of living together whilst maintaining some privacy.
  1. The High Street Revived–This scenario suggests active third agers could stimulate a radical revival of our beleaguered high streets. Up and down the country, local high streets could become a fusion of public amenity, private enterprise and intergenerational exchange, all activated by third agers utilising their skills, time and energy to improve their community for themselves and their families.
  1. Seaside Enterprise Zones: A New Local Economy – The idea of flexible work for those who want or need to continue to use their skills, new leisure and social opportunities and the prospect of more affordable living could attract investment from active third agers and kick start the regeneration of coastal towns. This scenario speculates that the private sector will capitalised on the significant potential of a skilled and available older workforce - one with inadequate pension provision - and look to sponsor whole towns, building a new kind of local economy? It could be a Movie Making Studio in Margate or Samsung taking over Southport?
  1. City Networks: The Pop-Up University - By 2040, we could use the wealth of knowledge and skill offered by a generation who enjoyed a boom of cheaper accessible higher education. The city could become a living university. You could drop in at your local pub or community centre for your one to one, lecture (or pint of locally brewed ale) with your tutor.
  1. City Networks: Healthy Infrastructure – In 2013, just 1 in 5 people aged 65-74 in England do the recommended level of exercise, so an active third age is not guaranteed for everyone. To help as many people as possible achieve a fulfilling, social and active third age, in the future we could see networks of ‘health hubs’, promoting exercise in public spaces and encourage active ageing and wellbeing for all. The local disused phone box could become a heart monitoring and weighing hub with vital stats automatically sent to the GP for monitoring.

RIBA President Stephen Hodder said:

“Over 60 year olds, active third agers, are going to become increasingly prevalent and powerful voice in the very near future. This report speculates how an active third age could have a positive impact on Britain’s economic opportunities and the very look and feel of our homes, towns and cities. But beyond the speculation, it illustrates a pressing need to plan now how we are going to respond to this clear, impending demographic shift.”

As part of its commitment to ensuring our homes, neighbourhoods, village and towns meet the needs of our ageing population; the RIBA has recently formed a Research and Innovation Working Group, Chaired by Sophie Handler. The group will bring together research that will aid the profession in responding to the challenges posed by demographic change. Architects, policy makers and academics are encouraged to visit architecture.com for more information on how to get involved.


Notes to editors

  1. For further press information contact Howard Crosskey in the RIBA Press Office: 020 7307 3761 howard.crosskey@riba.org
  2. Silver Linings: The Active Third Age can be viewed and downloaded here:  http://www.buildingfutures.org.uk/projects/building-futures/silver-linings-the-active-third-age-and-the-city/download-the-report/
  3. All the images in the report are available for press use, please visit https://app.box.com/s/r9nqa989onufip4nzfr2 to download.
  4. The RIBA's Building Futures was established to create space for discussion about the needs of society from our built environment, and consequently, the built environment professions in 20 years and beyond.
  5. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) champions better buildings, communities and the environment through architecture and our members www.architecture.com