‘Hugs from Hanoi’ is my short-hand for a story that resonated with me recently, a short interchange in itself but one that defines the spirit of intergenerational living and a picture of the community typology I see myself ageing in.
As a delegate at Property Week’s Retirement Living conference, the stage was set to hear from the new generation of retiree – where 90 is the new 70 it seems set against the landscape of our ageing population.
Being active citizens, people who continue to interact with their community, being intrigued and interested in their fellow human beings with no excuses of advancing age summed up slices of conference context.
And then I heard the tale of the senior lady who, while taking a short stroll with a friend, encountered a neighbour out walking in turn with a friend visiting from Vietnam.
They enjoyed an exchange of pleasantries, followed by a conversation about differences in culture from Hanoi to the semi-rural backdrop of the UK town they were passing the time of day talking in.
The party laughed, smiled, talked about the weather (as defines us Brits) and when they parted, the visitor from Vietnam gave them both a simple hug as a farewell.
And in taking their different onward routes, the senior lady said that’s why she would always want to live in the heart of a community commenting: ‘How else would you get a hug from Hanoi while out for a simple stroll?’
Property Week’s conference went on to discuss retirement living in all its current forms, from intergenerational living, to retirement villages and retirement rental as an option with a tone that encouraged the audience to consider retirement as a stage not age.
The decision tree that helps you make an informed choice today about the home you will live in in the years to come has truly branched out to create a diverse canopy.
We have architects like Pozzoni leading the way in designing multi-generational communities and initiatives such as The Kohab that are bringing old and young adults together under one roof to live in mutual support to OWCH – the Older Womens Co-Housing community.
So coming back to that pivotal hug from Hanoi and thinking about difference in our own days and ways….do homogeneous communities remove the essence of what it is to be human?
Our community strengths lie in diversity for young to help old, those with strength to help prop up the vulnerable. Youth gives physical strength to old and old imparts wisdom to young.
We all have a place in time but by stripping out layers of age through our communities do we create a disconnect between generations with that interplay lost as a result.
Other cultures value the old where ours can currently perhaps be accused of pushing people out of relevance and equally forgetting that ‘older people’ aren’t all the same.
As the late Jo Cox said ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us.’
So yes the hug from Hanoi is my personal short-hand for the essence of living well in age and nods to the spirit that the show takes a whole cast to make it.