Young – Old
Our housing crisis is in part driven by the demographic shift set out in Young – Old: population grows despite declining birth rates, extending with increasing life expectancies. How this might be accommodated in the future (beyond entreaties for older people to downsize), has been under-explored. Young – Old investigates this socio-economic change and how the burgeoning population has driven the design of retirement communities in North America, Europe and Japan since the 1950s. The book interrogates the particular qualities of these places.
Following research on the statistical shifts in population profile internationally, the book highlights the potential for a new subjectivity unique to a generation embarking upon a new bodily and social experience. Beginning in the 1950s with Youngtown, Arizona, it analyses settlements in California, Florida and the Costa del Sol, charting their expansion from villages to towns and small cities. In addition to these sun-seeking ‘active adult’ retirement communities, a Japanese, Dutch-themed community and the landscape of the nomadic senior Recreational Vehicle community in North America are explored.
Young – Old is a rigorously researched volume that is information-rich, full of pertinent and sometimes amusing observations and beautifully designed. The content happily criss-crosses spatial and cultural observations, recording spatial characteristics across a range of scales. Each settlement is elegantly and comparatively drawn recording its timeline, context, statistics, urban layout and texture, ecologies and ‘emblematic objects’ (such as golf carts, pet strollers). By viewing the young-old phenomenon as a ‘demographic petri dish’, it also moves on to gather wider observations about the dynamic relationship between social and built environments evidenced by this research.
As the book’s subtitle highlights, the drive to offer idealised lifestyles can be considered to be utopian. These are places where citizens can live on a kind of permanent vacation, free from responsibility and supposedly, liberated from boredom and loneliness. It acknowledges that it could also be described as being too mono-cultural, controlled or privatised. However like Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas (1972), there is a degree to which this cool look at a successful commercial form can tell us a great deal about designing for leisured mobility or concentrated sociability, and some more about a celebratory framing of the third age.