Divorce and the City – Why we need to plan our cities for women like Lynne

Last week Lynne, one of the ladies who bought my Underspent book phoned. Lynne is 48 and moving into a shared house with three complete strangers, adults in their 40’s and 50’s, and she’s absolutely terrified. She wanted survival information from anyone and everyone she knew. To be honest I probably wasn’t much help. I’d not lived in shared accommodation since being a student and young graduate. The thought of queuing for the bathroom and having ‘my shelf’ in the fridge now, at my age, fills me with terror.

According to house share website flatmates.com.au there has been a 20 per cent rise in midlife (age 40 plus) house-sharing in the last year alone. According to the Mail on Sunday the number of people looking for rooms exceeded those available by 30 per cent. The reasons are believed to include unaffordable house costs, the cost of living, redundancy, under-employment, divorce, depression and debt.

Our cities are changing. They’re becoming more expensive. Households are changing with more and more blended families and many adults are becoming under-employed or unemployed.

So, how do we plan cities for people like Lynne and these new modern lifestyles?

Here’s my seven tips.

1. Let’s acknowledge that Lynne’s modern lifestyle is different to the ‘norm’

Lynne’s not alone. More and more men and women in their 40’s and 50’s are moving into shared houses; a bedroom of their own and a communal kitchen, bathroom and living space. Most people, like Lynne are in this situation through necessity, not by choice. Lynne’s husband wanted a divorce. They sold the large suburban family home, paid off the mortgage and cleared their substantial debts. Lynne didn’t have enough money or a large enough income to rent a house or apartment herself. For some the suburban home is no longer the ‘norm’.

2. Let’s listen to Lynne rather being led by assumptions.

It’s easy to believe that everyone lives a similar lifestyle to our own. They don’t. Let’s not be influenced by misguided assumptions. Let’s listen to others and think from a different perspective. For example, we may have planned suburbs for professional income families but we may need to deliver services for lower income middle aged singles in shared accommodation.

3. Let’s ask Lynne what it is that she and others really want.

We need to ask people like Lynne and ourselves what is it that we really want our cities to do and be. Do we want them to be affordable and liveable? Let’s challenge the logic and create cities that reflect modern lifestyles. Let’s understand changing demographics because our customer today may not be the customer of tomorrow.

4. Let’s understand Lynne’s and other people’s biggest worries.

Let’s understand what people like Lynne think about. People tend not to think about the things that we might think that they think about. We might think people are thinking about technology and sustainability when in reality most people lay in bed at night worrying about how they’ll feed their kids and pay the next electricity bill. We need to provide customised information specific to people’s real needs.

5. Let’s pay attention to Lynne and other people’s complaints.

It’s simple to whinge about the whingers but let’s pay attention to what people are complaining about. Complaints are an indicator of beliefs and what’s holding things back. Lynne is worried about communal living. When people complain about traffic congestion it’s because they are frustrated about their precious time they’re wasting twice every day.

6. Let’s learn from Lynne’s reality not from what the media imply.

No one makes us learn after school or university. These days most of us are learning from TV, newspapers, Facebook and Sunday BBQ’s. Media influencers result in most of us think that most of us are earning half a million dollars. Let’s take control of what we are learning. Let’s understand about modern lifestyles and people like Lynne. Let’s plan our cities based on what’s really happening, not what reality TV implies.

7. Let’s prepare for people like Lynne and get ahead of the curve

I’d not realised the phenomenon of middled aged house sharing was quite so prevalent. Our world is changing fast and it’s easy to overlook the things that people are not thinking about. ‘Middle age house sharing’ is one of those blind spots. The things we miss. It’s an issue that’s rarely considered. We need to prepare for new societal changes and be ahead of the curve.

We need our future cities to reflect modern lifestyles. So let’s acknowledge modern lifestyles, let’s listen, let’s ask what we want, let’s understand other people’s worries, let’s pay attention to complaints, let’s learn from reality and let’s prepare. That way our cities will support terrified people like Lynne.