Third Age Urbanism: Retirement Utopias of the Young-Old

"This dissertation examines contemporary urban mutations that have materialised as a result of the emergence and expansion of the Third Age.

According to English social historian Peter Laslett, the Third Age refers both to a historical moment and a phase of life. As a historical moment, it may be characterised by the coincidence of the demographics of extended longevity, and the domination of retirement as an institution – a moment that occurred at the mid-point of the twentieth century in the more developed countries.

As a phase of life, the Third Age has been developed as a category to distinguish between at least two different types of older person that have emerged in the post-war period. The traditional notion of ‘oldage’ has bifurcated between the ailing and dependent ‘Old-Old’ (the Fourth Age) and a new and rapidly expanding population of healthy and independent ‘Young-Old’ (the Third Age.) The Third Age has emerged as a new leisure class distinct from previous conceptions in terms of its presence as a mass phenomenon and as a permanent one. As a phase of life, it has been characterized as a period of ‘late freedom’ – encompassing freedom from the responsibilities associated with: adulthood such as work and childcare; and childhood, such as education and socialization; as well as freedom from the physical and mental disabilities associated with traditional old-age. Such freedoms with which to construct utopias have been accompanied by a lack of existing scripts and protocols to direct how persons might live in this new, historically unprecedented phase of life. The ‘Third Age’, therefore, by definition, has emerged as an experimental field for alternate forms of subjectivity and collectivity, and, as will be presented in this dissertation, alternate forms of urbanism.

To date, the documentation and theorization of urban phenomena associated with this particular demographic group has been sparse and fragmentary. Previous research has tended to focus either on: single isolated urban or architectural examples excluded from the broader socio-demographic issues critical to their formation; or as case studies clustered together under the umbrella of functionalist solutions to the so-called ‘problem of old age.’ This dissertation, by contrast, is focused on delineating an experimental field of urbanism that has emerged from a specific socio-demographic milieu."

Simpson, D. (2010). Third Age Urbanism: Retirement Utopias of the Young-Old (Volume 1). ETH Zurich: Dissertation, 363 pages

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Photo (Grammichele) via Joy Reactor

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