Arup report warns cities must better cater for older communities or risk being unfit for purpose

Catering for the elderly population must be a greater deciding factor when planning the cities of the future, argues a new report from Arup, the global engineering consultancy.

It highlights the inescapable megatrends of an ageing population and increasing urbanisation, and how these will be major drivers of change for cities worldwide – necessitating a fundamental transformation in how cities are designed, planned and operate.

With the global population over 60 expected to more than double by 2050 , and a 68% increase in the number of older people living in cities between 2000-2015 , the new report - Cities Alive: Designing for ageing communities - offers a strategy for identifying how cities and built environment professionals can better plan and design physical spaces to meet the unique priorities of older residents.

From legal and regulatory obstacles compounding housing issues to inadequate design in the built environment for dementia sufferers and extreme weather, today’s cities offer a range of significant challenges for the elderly. The report urges property developers, designers and civic leaders to consider the four central needs of the ageing population when developing a framework for the cities of the future:

Autonomy and independence

Mobility, both inside and outside of the home, is key to retaining a sense of independence as people get older. However, costly modifications for home environments make ageing-in-place difficult, while the unpredictable quality of public transport services can make the elderly hesitant to venture outside.

To counteract this, cities should advocate the creation of compact, mixed-use developments, which allow anyone to live right next to the things they need every day, through tools such as zoning or incentives for private landowners. An example of this is the city of Toyama in Japan, which created Residential Encouragement Zones, offering a subsidy for development within the city centre and all areas within 500 metres of tram lines and regional rail, as well as within 300 metres of high-frequency bus routes.

Health and wellbeing

In many of today’s cities, zoning and other planning tools encourage spatial separation of residential and commercial areas, making it challenging for older people to access the services they need. A simple strategy to provide greater access to healthcare facilities is to build them near bus stops and train stations. Cities can make this especially effective by combining it with transit accessibility improvements to ensure everyone can get medical care when they need to.

General wellbeing can also be enhanced by providing free spaces for elderly people to exercise, making it cheaper and easier, and encouraging social interaction in the process. Preussen Park in Berlin offers outdoor exercise machines designed to improve stamina and balance, going so far as to restrict use of the equipment to people 65 and older.

Security and resilience

Many dangers that affect all members of the population are elevated for older individuals, due to a higher level of physical vulnerability. From coping with extreme weather to dealing with reduced mobility and cognition, certain hazards need special attention to ensure a city environment that is safe for all. Cities can act to mitigate threats to the built environment by retrofitting existing buildings and requiring smart changes to future construction.

Intersections are one of the most common places for pedestrians to be seriously injured by vehicles, but simple improvements and redesigns, such as kerb extensions, lowering speed limits and adding pedestrian crossings, can dramatically reduce their likelihood.

The dangers for the elderly only intensify should they be diagnosed with dementia and communities need to plan for this. By integrating the homes of people with dementia into a broader community area, training local businesses to help respond to the needs of people with dementia and adapting the built environment accordingly, cities can create dementia-friendly neighbourhoods, all while maintaining routines to the greatest extent possible.

Jerome Frost, Director and Global Planning and Cities Leader: "We are seeing unprecedented trends in cities across the globe, where people of all age groups and generations are vying for space in the centres of our cities. An ageing and increasingly urban population will have major implications for cities around the world. It will change our public services, infrastructure and housing, requiring more inclusive design and new forms of housing and social care.

“This report is the second in our Cities Alive series that pinpoints areas to focus on to foster inclusive environments for all generations to enjoy. Following the Urban Childhoods publication last year, we now focus on ageing communities as a demographic that we should not, and cannot, ignore. Of course, there are many parallels between the needs of the young and the old, and both are vital to the success of future cities.”

Download the report Cities Alive: Designing for ageing communities.

Keywords ARUP