An Ageing Society Challenges Cities

According to the UN World Population Prospects report, by 2050 there will be more people over 65 than people under 15. This demographic change demands that cities prepare for a society in which older people are the majority. In order to guarantee that older adults can lead fulfilling lives, the city’s infrastructure, housing, public transport and other facilities need to be adapted to their requirements. Since ageing in a favourable environment is directly related to health, the WHO has made a guide for age-friendly city design. According to the WHO’s Policy Framework on Active Ageing, creating age-friendly living space is about “optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of live”. Since cities have the economic and social resources to create an age-friendly environment, they are in a leading position in the creation of age-friendly living space. In this way, age-friendly cities focus on enabling their residents to age safely and in good health. Supplying them with the needed support, it is important that the elderly keep their independence and also participate actively in society.

Focus Areas of Age-friendly Cities

Age-friendly city development is not limited to a single area but needs to cover different areas of everyday life to show real effect.

Transportation and traffic

In order to guarantee older people can move independently and securely, the city’s transportation system has to adapt to moving habits of older people. According to an article in The Guardian, it is important to consider how older people move. Since they prefer public transport instead of driving themselves, the public transport system has to meet their specific needs. For example, when planning the schedule of connection trains or buses, it is important to consider that at an older age the walking speed may decrease, which consequently results in longer transfer time. Therefore, the time to transfer should be long enough and walking distances should be kept as short as possible. Moreover, the decreased walking speed should also be considered when setting the traffic light circuit, so that also slowly walking elderly people can safely cross the street.


Beside transportation and traffic managemen, other areas of infrastructure can also be adapted to older people’s needs. In order to facilitate everyday routines such as shopping, visiting the doctor’s or public offices, these amenities should be in short distance from public transportation stops and provide barrier-free access. Moreover, the public space can be equipped with additional benches which allow to take breaks and more public toilets are important to meet personal needs which become more urgent at an older age. For improved security and to avoid falls, wider pavements are important and trip hazards such as uneven floor covering and kerbs are avoided in age-friendly cities.


Social inclusion

Especially older people suffer from too little social contact and isolation, which has negative effects on their mental and even their physical health. In age-friendly cities the social inclusion of older people is encouraged. It is important that they keep participating in social life and do not become part of a parallel society. Therefore, the US trend of building cities where older adults live cut-off from the rest of the society is not favourable for the development of a healthy society. Instead of separating age classes, in age-friendly cities people of every age are part of society, which allows different generations to profit from each other.

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UN: World Population Prospects
WHO: Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide
WHO: Global Age-Friendly Cities Project
The Guardian: Improving with age? How city design is adapting to older populations