There’s no quick fix for this problem, but there are ways to foster closer ties between generations which could solve other problems within society such as loneliness, soaring housing costs, the ageing population, and waste. I propose introducing communal co-living spaces which take inspiration from the Dutch idea of ‘nursing home dorms’. They will offer cheap rents to young people in return for a commitment to spending time with older residents, helping them learn to use new technology and tending to a communal roof garden. Whilst the private rooms in this co-living space will be small and basic, a lot of resources will be devoted to making large communal spaces for everyone to enjoy. Weekly film nights, art classes, political talks, exercise sessions, AR experiences, and cooking events, will be organised by the community. There will also be quiet areas for people to work in. The only commitment each resident must make, is to volunteer for a minimum of two hours a week. This could be scaled up in return for cheaper rents but there will be a cap on it.
After the pandemic, our high streets will need to be reimagined. As the shutters go down on big department stores and office blocks, the state should be commandeering these buildings to create these co-living spaces. They will be there for people whose lifestyles are more suited to renting – young people yet to put down roots, older people whose children may have flown the nest, or who have lost loved ones, and now want to live more communally. The space could also be available to short term residents, who only need to spend one night a week in the city now that they are predominantly working from their homes in rural areas. A lot has been made of people wanting to work more from home, but in my opinion this has been exaggerated. Those that are younger are living in cramped shared flats and have a lot to learn from their colleagues. There is also still a desire, across the board, for environments which foster collaboration and idea sharing. This co-working/ co-living hybrid space is one of them. To encourage this change, cities need to get rid of old zoning laws that specify single uses for buildings.
Closer ties between generations also need to be fostered to help us rethink assumptions about how we’ve traditionally lived. This is not just desirable, but necessary because of our ageing population and falling birth rates. People are going to be working into old age because society will not have enough money to support their pensions, and we are likely to be still paying off the pandemic! If we sow the seeds now of intergenerational connection through co-living and working spaces, we will reap the reward when society expects and needs people to work until 75. Research has also shown that multi-generational working environments bring a diversity of thought and promote more creativity.
On the subject of future generations, we need to create a cross-party department, made up of politicians and experts from a wide range of fields, that’s solely focussed on the rights of future generations. This will allow for long term planning to tackle issues such as future pandemics, climate change and migration. Too often politics is bogged down by short-termism and quick fixes with eyes firmly on winning elections. This department will be shielded from party politics but still democratic. It will hold town hall policy think-ins which select a cross section of people to serve like a jury service. They will debate, vote, and guide the work of this cross-party group. Modern technology will allow for the work of the organisation to be transparent, open, and accountable. Facebook could also be involved in creating an efficient, regular voting system to guide the work of the body.