We do not need senior housing only: we need cities for all ages. The population aging and hedonistic individualism of post-industrial society have fractured the links that guaranteed the cohesion of traditional structures through mutual help. ‘Parents take care of children as later children take care of parents’ was a practice that spread from the family to the closest community, but today assistance has been entrusted mainly to people outside those ties of proximity and kinship. The growing segmentation of the real estate market, with the inevitable extremes of housing for the young and for seniors, is a reflection on the urban territory of that breakdown of interdependence, segregating the population by ages and taking to an extreme the functional division of the city, a dogma of modernity that is now fortunately obsolete.
Those we euphemistically call ‘seniors’ – their working years done and with a high life expectancy, even though occasionally burdened by illness or disabilities – are in fact key elements of the economic system, be it through consumption linked to leisure and travel, be it through material support of the next generation, or the very frequent care of grandchildren. It does not seem reasonable, under these circumstances, to speed up the processes that lead to their physical and optical exclusion from the shared space, confining them to environments of their own that could be perceived as comfortable ‘lazarettos for the elderly.’ On the contrary, both architects and public authorities should strive to hinder or even revert those segregation processes, without taking the generational and urban fractures as givens.
Gentrification expels those with lower income from city centers, and this mechanics of exclusion can extend to the elderly if we create specific facilities for them in urban peripheries. The break of traditional sociability fuels a feeling of helpless frustration that is the breeding ground for populisms like those emerging now around the world, and perhaps recovering faith in the values of modernity demands recovering that grand creation, the European city, and turning it into a shared property of all, avoiding both economic and generational segregation and ensuring that senior housing becomes the exception, and not the rule. Only if we live together with people of all ages can we come to accept physical decline, illness, and death as natural processes, and find comfort in the mighty blooming of new life.