Intergenerational Living – a new way of living the old way

Justin Shee, The Kohab
07/03/19

“OK, so I get why older people would want to live around younger
people, but why on earth would young people want to live around old
people?!”

This is one of the most common questions I get when I talk about The Kohab’s (opens new window)
intergenerational living model.  It is usually from those who have no
direct experience of what it’s like to be a young person living in a
city in 2019.  

The underlying assumption behind this question is that old and young
adults have nothing in common – they are a different species with vastly
different lifestyles, interests and opinions.  Their relationships
could not possibly offer each other benefit in equal measure because
youth is sexy and fashionable, whereas old age is boring and
uneventful.  But those of us lucky enough to have or to observe close
relationships between young and old adults know this is absolutely not
be the case.

I often ask in return: why wouldn’t a young person want to live
around someone who may take a genuine interest in their life, their
wellbeing and have invaluable life experience and wisdom to impart?  Why
wouldn’t a young person, who may be living in a new city where they
know few people, want to live in an environment which resembles more of a
family style living arrangement, at an affordable rent?  It’s very easy
to talk about loneliness and isolation amongst older people as it is
often very visible.  But what is harder to see and more difficult to
talk about is how young adults now report the highest instances of
loneliness out of any age group.  A recent study by the BBC (opens new window)
found that 40% of all people aged 16-24 reported feeling lonely “often
or very often”, compared to 27% of those over the age of 75.

I find that people instantly understand how intergenerational living
environments can help older people stay integrated in society, relieve
loneliness and isolation, and help them keep up with the pace of change
in areas such as technology.  But often people haven’t considered the
needs and desires that many young adults have for a lifestyle that
allows them greater integration into a mixed community at a time when
they may be feeling lost or in need of support.  As seen in successful
intergenerational living schemes in Cambridge (opens new window) and Holland (opens new window),
these are mutually beneficial living environments, having a profound
impact on the lives of both the older and the younger residents.

Intergenerational living isn’t new. What is new is society’s recent obsession with segregating people by age.

There is a lot of talk about how we are moving to an ‘experienced
base economy’ and how housing is now beginning to fall in line with this
trend.  This can be seen in the growing popularity of service-driven
living models like co-living and build-to-rent.  So far, most of these
models have focused solely on millennials.  What we are doing at The
Kohab is the natural next iteration of this – a housing model that opens
up this market to a wider demographic to recreate the family form of
living for those who may not have ready access to it, regardless of
age.

But despite the modern delivery framework, what we are doing is
nothing new or radical.  In fact, it is the most natural way of living
that occurs in the vast majority of cultures around the world and
throughout human history.  What is new is society’s recent obsession
with segregating people by age.  The real estate market has encouraged
this with developers, policy makers and architects deciding to silo
people by age and life stages, be that in student accommodation or
retirement living.  What we are doing is simply recreating the natural
forms of living – a new way of living the old way.

Published by Residential Forum

The Residential Forum is to promote the achievement of high standards of care and support for children and adults living in residential care and nursing homes, supported housing, residential schools and colleges, hospices and hostels. It contributes to improving the quality of service to the public. Members of the Forum are people of standing and experience drawn from the public, private and voluntary sectors, as well as some who can speak for service users and carers.

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