• March 21, 2024

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years or over by 2030—one of the greatest demographic growths in over a century. With these changes come social and economic challenges including the space they will require for residential and community space, and the risks of disengagement.

A person’s interaction with others in the social system they belong can decrease as they grow older, resulting in reduced socialization, lower levels of physical activity, and a decreased sense of well-being.

Current monogenerational models of space which allow people to only interact with who they’re surrounded by limits intergenerational exchanges and exacerbates this issue. As we spatially organize ourselves according to the buildings we occupy, this generational siloing divides people at the scale of cities, neighbourhoods and buildings, presenting a major societal problem of deteriorating intergenerational relations and pervasive ageism.

This, however, is not an insurmountable problem.

It can be redirected through design.

Understanding the need for intergenerational landscapes of exchange

Public spaces are where our communities gather and create a common identity. What we won’t always see, however, are spontaneous encounters and exchanges between these communities’ different age groups.

As they live in parallel to one another, different generations can share space and positively interact to benefit their social health and well-being through landscape architecture.

By designing space for all stages of life with broad-spectrum accessibility to spaces for educating one another, elements of play through interactive installations, playgrounds, and more, and observance of one another through adequate socializing can engender interactions, a sense of safety, and belonging.

Easily realized in places like parks, streets, city squares and gardens, landscape architecture can also inform positive placemaking changes through a variety of other contexts too.

According to landscape architect Marie-Eve Parent, Associate and Practice leader in Landscape Architecture at Lemay, placemaking strategies can take the form of:

  • Schools and schoolyards that link up with the greater community
  • Inclusive designs that consider the needs of the elderly and other vulnerable populations to create welcoming and comfortable environments
  • Shared gardens, art studios, and workshop spaces to exchange skills and knowledge
  • Moments for activities like hiking and gardening, structured to promote shared experiences and discussions
  • Winding paths and picturesque promenades for exploration and natural chance encounters
  • Gathering information and feedback from different age groups to ensure that space can reflect them

From monofunctional to multipurpose and intergenerational

These placemaking strategies are promising alternatives to reconnect and intertwine private and public contexts once separated by age.

One way of promoting exchanges and encounters is by redesigning areas surrounding places frequented by different generations with broadly experiential and inclusive means. New high schools in Quebec, for example, use outdoor spaces redesigned to improve students’ quality of life, health and well-being, and learning while enabling all generations to come together and interact with each other.

Beyond this, intergenerational programming such as shared gardens, art studios and workshops encourage interaction and collaboration for knowledge and experience sharing: Young people learn from elders, benefiting from their wisdom, while elders feel valued by contributing to the education of youth.

Taking shape with nature at the core

Marie-Eve Parent believes hospitals and healthcare facilities, schools and mixed-use complexes have historically lacked the inclusivity found in the abovementioned projects—but they aren’t beyond having it.

“We have to rethink spaces as catalysts for intergenerational exchanges,” she says. “Space should facilitate connections amongst everyone with meeting points—that’s how we foster a sense of community and promote meaningfully social exchanges.”

Bridging ageist divides while reducing stress and social isolation, Marie-Eve says that nature’s universal appeal can support physical and mental well-being with a neutral ground where people can come together.

Shifting our paradigms around collective space

Everyone involved in these spaces’ designs—elected representatives, architects, urban planners, urban designers, landscape architects, and developers—need to collaborate in intergenerational design if it will drive profound cultural shifts towards inclusive and cohesive communities.

As it reduces negative perceptions between generations such as ageism and social isolation while increasing our overall well-being—ultimately engendering a society based around quality living environments—it’s essential to keep intergenerationality in mind when designing public spaces.