Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

LOCAL | Changing demographics

I had cause to do some mapping recently, using ABS SEIFA data from the 2016 Census to understand some relationships between land use, social disadvantage and housing type. In particular, I was interested in how the retirement villages, social housing and caravan park perform in terms of relative advantage and disadvantage. In part, this investigation was fuelled by the incessant calls in my local area to close down the caravan park and recent rumours that the caravan park may, in part or whole, be redeveloped as a retirement village.

The caravan park and the retirement villages are among the most disadvantaged in the local area (see map below). This map will not be particularly visible on this post, but the darker the colour, the more disadvantaged the population. The map shows six retirement villages, but out of frame, on Albany Creek Road, an aged care facility recently opened and there is another retirement living complex. Aspley, as a whole, tends to rank in the 4th Quintile of the Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage, which means on average it is not disadvantaged, but is flanked by more disadvantaged areas like Chermside and Zillmere, and has these pockets of planned disadvantage embedded in its sprawling social geography. Similarly, there are pockets of higher advantage in the locality. Another caravan park in the local area was converted into a retirement village – and that large area indicated on the map includes different types of multi-dwellings such as apartments and townhouses. These types of developments tend to be more compact, so there is a higher density of disadvantaged population. Generally, suburban areas tend to have higher average ages than the inner city.


Hearing of another possible retirement village in Aspley, I decided to investigate our local demographics to see how this locality fit with the profile of an aging population. ABS Community Profile records 21.5% of the population in 2016 was aged 65 and over – this is a large demographic segment and it is not really appropriate to do this, but data analysis tends to treat over 65s as an agglomeration. The proportion of over 65s in Aspley is higher than the state and national proportions. The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare projects that 20% of the Australian population will be 65 and over by 2037. So if you want to see what our future aging population looks like, visit the Aspley Hypermarket. And it is noticeable – I was once in the shopping centre and overheard someone say “There’s a lot of old people here”. Because relative social disadvantage is mapped across those retirement villages, this is a high proportion of the population with limited resources and disproportionately experiencing disadvantage.

There are many things about this locality that make it a good place for aging and aging in place – located on a major corridor, it has green space, a waterway, shops, services, places of worship, some recreational facilities and transport etc with a hospital in the next suburb, but is plagued by car domination, empty shops, poor quality public and pedestrian space and other issues.

As a built form, retirement villages in this locality are walled off from the community and might as well be gated communities. Even though retirement villages are open to over 55s, most residents are aged in their 70s or over when they relocate. While they can diversify the population, they do not integrate well socially or morphologically, so the benefits of social mix are lost except for individuals with family and social ties in the locality. However, I anticipate that the social connections within the villages are dynamic. This type of development and its impact on localities is unsustainable and other kinds of built form and community-oriented approaches to aging population needs and contributions are urgently needed. Many researchers and journalists have found that the financial model for these types of developments is exploitative and has poor social impacts.

Retirement villages are changing the urban landscape. If more retirement villages are being built in this locality and continue to demonstrate such high concentrations of disadvantage, then more needs to be done by government and community organisations in terms of creating an age-friendly community, improving the urban form, integrating development and providing more and better social infrastructure. This also needs to be reflected in the neighbourhood plan. When Council approves these land uses and developments, they make decisions about the social and economic composition of localities. Locating them close to shops, services and transport is important but not enough. If we’re going to be a suburb that ages faster than the rest of the city and country, then we really need to understand the implications and adapt. There are opportunities to undertake social innovation and urban experiments to respond appropriately and carefully. There needs to also be a greater commitment across government to resource and plan the community as a whole for social sustainability and social inclusion.

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