“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 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.
- Justin Shee, Founder, The Kohab
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 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 and Holland, these are mutually beneficial living environments, having a profound impact on the lives of both the older and the younger residents.
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.
Justin is speaking as part of a panel discussion called ‘Together instead of alone: The rise of intergenerational and co-living models’ at HOMES UK on 27 November at 13:00-13:45.