Given East Devon’s demographic of a large elderly population, some of the points made in this article about designing ageing-friendly cities apply to our towns and villages too. There appear to be few (or no) design features for the older population in, say, Cranbrook, where it seems people are expected to move on if they grow older.
“…Getting out and about
The quality of the environment outside the home has a huge bearing on an older person’s quality of life. Joe Oldman, Age UK’s policy manager for housing and transport, says paying attention to the built environment can make the difference between someone participating in life, and them being isolated at home. “Accessible public transport, level pavements, places to sit, the removal of trip hazards, good street lighting and public toilets are all vital components to encouraging older people to stay engaged with their local community.”
New York City has added 1,500 new benches and 3,500 new or improved bus shelters in the last decade, in consultation with senior centres on their placement – such as within 250 metres from hospitals or community facilities. In the UK, 300 businesses in Nottingham have signed up to the city’s Take a Seat scheme, identifying shops where older and disabled people are welcome to rest with a “We are age-friendly” sticker.
With older people less likely to drive, affordable, accessible public transport is crucial to an age-friendly city. In January a UK study of 18,000 over-50s found that free public transport resulted in fewer cases of depression, after researchers tracked changes in mental health before and after people became eligible for free travel.
Natalie Turner of the UK charity, the Centre for Ageing Better, believes cities need inclusive transport strategies. “Good transport links help everyone, whatever their age, to access vital services such as doctors and social and cultural amenities, so that they can be involved in city life, stay independent and keep up social connections.”
Many cities, including Washington DC and Bilbao in northern Spain, have identified improving access to transport as a cornerstone of their ageing strategies. Proposals include making bus drivers aware of the needs of vulnerable community members, maintaining bus stops and pavements, and ensuring route information is accessible.
Innovative schemes are making cycling more accessible to older people. In south London, disability charity Wheels for Wellbeing offers sessions on specially adapted bikes, encouraging users to keep mobile, independent and fit. For those who no longer have the physical ability, Cycling Without Age – piloted in Copenhagen and now in 40 countries – enables the elderly to go out in tricycle rickshaws pedalled by volunteers.
An age-friendly city should provide opportunities for people to participate in public life and contribute to their communities, through paid or voluntary work. Evidence shows doing so increases social contact and good health. In Hong Kong the elder friendly employment practice helps older people to continue flexible employment post-retirement, through initiatives such as employment fairs and an online job-matching.
Roger Battersby, an architectural consultant to PRP Architects, specialising in age-friendly housing in China, says many members of the country’s growing population of over-65s are employed by local government in landscaping services. “One sees armies of older people tending the urban landscapes which, as a consequence, are generally of a high quality.”
But Professor Chris Phillipson says an age-friendly city needs to go far beyond work, housing and infrastructure to take in global factorssuch as climate change and pollution, to which older people are particularly vulnerable.
Unless the bigger picture is tackled, Phillipson says, we are likely to see an increasingly unequal society in the future, with the elderly among those bearing the brunt. “There will be a significant number of people in their 50s still renting. One-third of over 50s don’t own property. They will have rented for a long time and won’t have equity or savings. Gentrification has also had an appalling effect on older people.”
One example is Berlin, where low-income flats are being sold to private developers, leading to rent increases that have made many areas unaffordable to older people.
“We need policies that have a real impact on the urban development that is taking place,” says Phillipson. “If the environment is hostile to people on low incomes, that impacts disproportionally on older residents. Cities must not think about housing and town planning policies in isolation. Age-friendliness needs to be part of the debate about urban development.”