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Boomers missing in vibrancy debate


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The “hip and groovy” vibrancy agenda of the State Government and the Adelaide City Council is missing the very people who can rejuvenate the city – baby boomers.

That’s the view of South Australia’s leading demographer, Professor Graeme Hugo, the director of the Australian Population and Migration Research Centre at the University of Adelaide.

Hugo says South Australia’s massive boomer generation – about a quarter of the state’s population – will redefine ageing as we know it, but the government’s policies aren’t preparing for the huge demographic changes ahead.

“They have very different attitudes and beliefs than previous generations of older people,” Hugo told InDaily. “They have the potential to be at the forefront of social change.”

They also have the money and the energy to transform the city – something they’re already doing, without recognition from government.

Hugo argues that Adelaide City Council oversees the fastest-growing local government area in the state – and that’s due mostly to overseas students and baby boomers.

Yet, the Government’s 30-year Plan for Greater Adelaide – and the “vibrancy” push – implies an emphasis on attracting and retaining young people.

“Why can’t baby boomers be hip and groovy?

“While they won’t say that vibrancy is about young people, that’s what they mean. They’re talking about young people.”

The Government and the council have made concerted efforts to both attract more residents to the city, and to enliven the life of the CBD through events, licensing reform (which has led to a surging ‘small bar’ culture), and huge infrastructure spending to transform the city’s public spaces.

The image presented is one of young entrepreneurs and hipsters enjoying a gritty, urban lifestyle.

The reality, according to Hugo, is that these funky bars, restaurants and new public spaces will be sustained by the cash and energy of the boomers.

“They’re pitching to young people but they’re not getting them,” Hugo said. “The people they’re getting are cashed-up baby boomers. They’re looking for the cafe society and a vibrant place to live.

“There are so many of them that they can make a difference.

“We tend to think of these ages as passive; not on the sharp end of social change.

“But these baby boomers are fit, healthy and cashed-up.”

It’s not only the CBD that could be transformed as the boomer generation moves into retirement.

Hugo has overseen a study of migration intentions on the Copper Coast – a Yorke Peninsula holiday playground where half of the houses are holiday homes.

The study found that half of of the holiday home owners – mostly boomers – are intending to move from Adelaide to live the holiday lifestyle full-time.

“That’s going to have a very significant impact on the local government area,” Hugo says.

That mass migration, in turn, could have a transforming effect on Adelaide’s suburbs, freeing up family homes for a younger generation.

Having made that point, Hugo hastens to add that not enough is known about the plans of the baby boomers.

“We don’t know enough about the intentions of the baby boomers. They’re not retiring as early as other generations.

“Basically, they are about a quarter of the population – what they do is very significant.

“There needs to be a change in the mindset. To some extent these challenges are still 20 years down the track.

“It’s a real sleeper.”

Do you agree with Professor Hugo? Share your views via email to, including your full name. (The editor reserves the right to edit letters.)


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