Age-friendly cities help seniors shine through their golden years

Cities are great places for young people, but they’re also wonderful places to spend your entire life. In fact, more and more people are staying in cities for good, and enjoying their retirement in a vibrant atmosphere. As a result, cities are taking senior-friendliness seriously. They need to provide residents with bright prospects that stretch well into the golden years.

Worldwide, the number of people aged over 60 will double from 600 million to 1.2 billion by 2025. And with over half of the world’s population already living in cities, it is imperative that urban centers take excellent care of their elders if they wish to remain attractive places to live. While healthcare and housing are important, it is essential to ensure that our elders remain active participants in their communities.

Our cities, our future – Urbanization, a trend which shows no signs of abating, will remarkably change the way we live, work, and interact in our communities.

Published on 17.11.2016

A global concern

With its Active Ageing policy, the World Health Organization (WHO) is “optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.” According to the WHO, many urban seniors are living in spaces that were not built with their unique needs in mind. This, in turn, limits their mobility and their capacity to participate in their communities.

The initiative covers the key factors of independence, participation, dignity, care and self-fulfillment. The WHO is focusing on cities, because they have the resources to ensure age-friendly environments, and they can serve as positive examples for other communities in their regions.

How age-friendly communities ensure active ageing

Source: WHO, Global Age-Friendly Cities Project brochure

  • Participation
    • Foster positive images of older persons
    • Accessible and useful information
    • Accessible public and private transportation
    • Inclusive opportunities for civic, cultural, educational and voluntary engagement
    • Barrier-free and enabling interior and exterior spaces
  • Health
    • Places and programs for active leisure and socialization
    • Activities, programs and information to promote health, social and spiritual well being
    • Social support and outreach
    • Accessible and appropriate health services
    • Good air/water quality
  • Security and Independence
    • Appropriate, accessible, affordable housing
    • Accessible home-safety designs and products
    • Hazard-free streets and buildings
    • Safe roadways and signage for drivers and pedestrians
    • Safe, accessible and affordable public transportation
    • Services to assist with household chores and home maintenance
    • Supports for caregivers
    • Accessible stores, banks and professional services
    • Supportive neighborhoods
    • Safety from abuse and criminal victimization
    • Public information and appropriate training
    • Emergency plans and disaster recovery
    • Appropriate and accessible employment opportunities
    • Flexible work practices

Learn the basics of age-friendly communities in this video by Tufts Health Plan Foundation.


Barrier-free connectivity for social inclusion

The most fundamental prerequisite for social inclusion is barrier-free connectivity. At some point in many people’s lives, stairs become an insurmountable obstacle. At that point, even escalators can prove difficult.

It is therefore important to integrate solutions that help people get around without getting blocked by steps and street curbs. Although ramps are a very obvious and straightforward solution, they are often forgotten in public spaces around the world. Elevators, by contrast, are normally standard in every new public and private building, but here the problem is often that there are not enough elevators.

A barrier-free approach helps not just seniors, but also people with limited mobility, parents with baby carriages and parcel delivery services. And don’t forget other options, such as chair lifts and platform lifts, which help when ramps or elevators prove unfeasible.

Public transport

Public transportation systems should offer a variety of options, such as trains, subways, trams and buses. All of these can be made more senior-friendly by providing seats reserved for the elderly and persons with limited mobility.

For underground stations, it is vital that these be equipped with a sufficient number of elevators, not just for the elderly but also enough to cover the people who should actually be taking the escalators (because many seniors will not exercise their right to move to the front of the line at an elevator). The MULTI elevator would be an optimal solution for providing the people-moving power that underground stations need.

Benches boost mobility?

It’s a little known fact that public benches improve mobility among the elderly. Seniors are often perfectly capable of walking longer distances, but they need the occasional opportunity to rest. If they know that a particular park has plenty of benches, they will be much more likely to spend more time out of doors.

Age-friendly case studies

  • St. Louis County, Missouri, USA

    St. Louis County partnered with local universities, institutions and local communities to work towards better conditions for seniors, creating the Age-Friendly Community Action Plan. What’s more, the program shares resources and knowledge with communities around the world via download and direct communication.

  • Belfast, Northern Ireland

    Belfast is part of the WHO’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. The city sponsors numerous inclusion-boosting initiatives. The main three-year action plan will conclude in 2017, so stay tuned for more news from Age-friendly Belfast.

  • Singapore

    Singapore is one of the most accessible cities in Asia and the world, according to Lonely Planet. And with the city-state’s penchant for interesting architecture, it’s no surprise that it will soon feature an inclusion-focused retirement community with green walls and multiple gardening opportunities.

  • Barcelona, Spain

    Barcelona not only has its own WHO-supported age-friendly city program, it has also become a popular accessible-travel destination for the handicapped or anyone with limited mobility. It’s a good example of how improvements in one area lead to benefits for all.

Senior-friendly = livable for all

Senior-friendly initiatives generate benefits for people of all ages. The clean air and healthy environment aspects of WHO’s Age-Friendly Cities initiative will benefit everyone, particularly children and people with respiratory diseases. The aspects of safety and security help ensure family-friendly environments. And, finally, creating barrier-free cities will help improve the mobility of many citizens.

In conclusion, cities that strive to meet WHO’s age-friendly guidelines will undoubtedly become friendly to all.