Multigenerational planning and universal design

Four generations. A baby, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Multigenerational.
Four generations

There is much talk about population ageing but not much ‘doing’. Urban design is still stuck in age segmentation mode – separate places for children and older people. For example, playgrounds for children and senior citizen centres and ‘homes’ for older people. What we need is more multigenerational planning using universal design principles.

A man is enjoying himself on exercise equipment in a play space for older adults.

Playgrounds with exercise equipment for “seniors” is the new thing. But grandparents have been taking children to playgrounds since they were invented.  As it turns out, small children like the exercise equipment – it’s adventure play to them!  But not all places meet the needs of both young and old. 

Planners need to simultaneously consider the different needs of young and old in future projects. That’s the advice of a briefing paper on Multigenerational Planning. Key issues are mobility and access to services, housing affordability, walkability, and density. 

Younger and older generations share similar safety risks, especially as pedestrians. Parents fear of crime is for their children and their own parents. 

What can planners do?

Cross-generational collaboration is a good start, but it also has to consider other population dimensions. Migrants, people with disability, gender identity, and social and cultural inclusion. The key points in the briefing paper are:

Keypoint 1: Multigenerational planning creates new coalition building opportunities. Different populations don’t always recognise their reliance on each other. Each age segment defends its narrow position creating missed opportunities.

Keypoint 2: Civic participation and engagement is fundamental to multigenerational planning. Children and young people have their own wisdom and older people often have neighbourhood networks. Bringing them together provides better outcomes rather than engaging separately. 

Keypoint 3: Multigenerational planning users smart growth principles.  Programs and smart growth policies that target older people and children provide multigenerational benefits. 

Keypoint 4: Multigenerational planning applies universal design principles. The guiding philosophy is to design spaces with the ability to meet the changing needs of users. Universal design promotes accessibility, safety, flexibility, functionality, simplicity, and comfort. Housing should meet basic access standards too so that everyone can visit each other at home. 

There is much more for planners in this fourteen page paper. 

The title of the briefing paper is, Multigenerational Planning: Using smart growth and universal design to link the needs of children and the ageing population. It was published by the American Planning Association. 


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