The "retirement kampung" coming up in Woodlands will possess an essential feature of real villages: proximity between the elderly and children. What Singapore's first Housing Board retirement village seeks to recreate is closeness with the very young because the old feel valued when they become a part of inter-generational relationships. That sense of belonging is under pressure in nuclear families and, of course, not everybody has grandchildren.
Those behind the conceptualisation of Kampung Admiralty should be commended for their efforts to integrate lives at two ends of the age spectrum. A childcare centre and eldercare facilities are sited thoughtfully alongside a community park. They will be integrated with about 100 studio flats for the elderly, a vegetable farm and a hawker centre. This way, elderly residents will enjoy the ambience of living in a community where their material needs are cared for with their convenience and safety in mind.
Yet, as important as physical needs are psychological expectations. Loneliness is the chief curse of old age and, although it can be reduced in the company of other seniors, the elderly still feel unwanted when they are cut off from the wider life of the community because they are unable to participate in it. Indeed, they could feel that they have been cast into the demographic wilds, shorn of their once-defining roles as father and mother.
Of course, others' grandchildren can never be one's own, but small children are more or less the same. Their shrill chatter and playfulness, and their ability to receive and give affection, can and do cross familial boundaries. It would be good if parents sending their wards to the childcare centre encouraged them to interact with the grandparents-at-large. The second childhood is a wonderful time to spend with those who are enjoying their first foray into life outside the home.