"Age-friendly" cities, present and future

Ciudades “age-friendly”, presente y futuro - Emprendimiento, Sociedad

There is no denying: like it or not, we all get old. According to a report of the United Nations, the number of older people is growing at an unprecedented rate. By the year 2050, for the first time in the history of mankind, there will be more people over 65 than children under the age of 15. And since by then 70% of the world's population will probably live in cities, this presents enormous challenges and cities will have to adapt.

An aging population is not a bad thing: it reflects better health and an increase in life expectancy. However, as we get older, our social, transportation and housing needs change. By preparing for this, social policy makers, urban planners and architects can make older populations lead a better life.

The global engineering company Arup has analyzed how the authorities are responding to this demographic change. Stefano Recalcati, leader of the project behind the report of the Shaping Aging Cities company, explains that cities must adapt so that older people can maintain their quality of life: "It is important to be aware of the aging tendency. The cities of the world: they should change, to make sure that older people continue to play an active role in the community and not be isolated. Isolation has a negative impact on health, so addressing that is really important. "

"Small innovations can make a difference," adds Recalcati. "Older people are less likely to drive, which favors public transport.The person over 65 walks at a speed of 3 km / h.At 80 goes down to 2 km / h, compared to the average for a person of working age that is 4.8 km / h. Reduce the distance between transportation stops, shops, banks, shady trees, public restrooms and improve sidewalks, and allow more time to cross the street, encourages older people to go out. "

In recent years, efforts have been made to make cities more accessible for residents, disabled visitors and the elderly. Berlin aims for 100% accessibility by 2020, for example. City authorities are working to widen pavements, provide tactile guidance at road junctions and facilitate access to trams and buses.

Ongoing projects

In the United States, retirement communities grow. They also grow in other parts of the world: separate cities, often closed, for people over 55 years old. For example, The Villages in Florida, is a network of "small villages" that house 115,000 people over 55 connected by a network of 145 kilometers of roads for golf carts, with restaurants, bars, cinemas and sports facilities.

For Deane Simpson, an architect who teaches at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen: "The infrastructure of the golf cart provides a transport network for vehicles slower than cars." This could be replicated as a way to integrate scooters for reduced mobility, electric wheelchairs and bicycles. In Denmark and the Netherlands, where the culture of cycling is strong, cycle paths are increasingly used for mobility scooters, it is a way to allow safe mobility for those who can not walk and can not drive. "

In China, more than a quarter of the population will be over 65 by 2050. Older people have traditionally been cared for by their extended families, who often have three generations living together. But the demographic changes are a great challenge for that family unit. The one-child policy combined with a longer life expectancy means that a typical married couple could be caring for four parents and up to eight grandparents.

Lead 8 is an architecture and design studio that works in the Asian country. His co-founder and director Simon Blore explains that they have worked on new projects that are between 80 and 100% aimed at groups of older people. "We try to maintain the scale of a typical Chinese village, all needs are met within walking distance (the elderly in China do not have cars, and may no longer use bicycles.) On this subject a system of "local" health clinics  is superimposed., essential services, open spaces and leisure facilities, which do not differ too much from assisted living, but on a much larger scale. "

Blore has doubts about whether the American model will be accepted: "I think most people want to be part of the normal society, part of the community, so it's probably an international challenge to try to balance it, a place with a high level of care, a sense of community and a relationship with society in general. "

Integration rather than segregation and rethinking traditional designs is also a priority for Susanne Clase, architect of White Arkitekter, who is designing apartments for senior citizens in Gothenburg, Sweden, and including potential residents and home care professionals in decision-making . She explains that the apartments are designed to accommodate regular visits by professional caregivers to help with personal tasks: "In our design, public and private spaces are reversed." The bedroom and bathroom are next to the front door so that the caretaker can access them, the living room and the kitchen are in the back and they are the resident's private space. "Clase believes that designing thinking about aging is good for everyone." It is important to help people live on their own, independently as long as possible, and design it from the beginning instead of making adaptations later. We already have a high level of accessibility in Sweden. "

But how will these innovations work in a time of austerity, reduced pensions, subsequent retirement and rising housing prices? The "age-friendly" design can help us to redesign our cities, but how can we make sure that these innovations reach the majority of the elderly? Professor Christopher Phillipson of the University of Manchester believes that more political will is needed to ensure that age-friendly cities include those affected by austerity and economic decline: "age-friendly cities cost money, but in the Kingdom there is less money available for local authorities, there are considerable barriers, due to pressures on budgets and the limited commitment of policymakers and developers, in the absence of these, the possibility of creating friendly environments will be limited. "

In Manchester, the first city in the United Kingdom to be recognized as "age-friendly" by the World Health Organization, the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research in Aging (Micra) has been training older people to investigate what is a friendly city for them. They discovered that, for most people, it was human contact, rather than high-tech gadgets. "Manchester is friendly with age because it has strong political leadership and the city supports neighborhood groups, and works with community leaders," continues Professor Phillipson. "The most important thing is collaboration through a wide range of interests, particularly those of the elderly."