What does an age-inclusive city look like?
Densely populated, noisy and exciting, our cities are often a model of youthful exuberance. But as our lifespans extend it’s becoming clear we need to do a better job of designing cities that work for the old as well as the young.
People are leading longer lives, and we need the built environment to respond to the changing needs we have during each phase of life. For architects, engineers, city planners and decision makers, truly progressive design must start to mean considering the diversity of users their work touches. And that includes the wide-ranging needs of an ageing population.
In the latest Cities Alive publication Designing for ageing communities we have attempted to define what an age-inclusive city should offer. We know people are going to want to retain their autonomy and independence. Their health and mental wellbeing will become increasingly important. Social connectedness will be vital to a long life. And they will need to live and move around in safety. Putting all four factors together is a good starting point for a new design ethos.
Lives built to last
Typically, a client will require that a piece of infrastructure is functional for a certain number of decades. But age inclusivity challenges designers to think differently; perhaps we should now start to consider the lifespan of the users themselves too. How will their needs change as they age? Will the building or asset still be as easy to use, to heat and light, to enjoy? What might its uses tomorrow mean for its design today?
The new report identifies dozens of actions, forming an age-inclusive ethos that we will need to design a built environment in which older people can continue to thrive.
All ages, whole communities
A few recent projects point the way forward. In Birmingham, England, a municipal trust has designed and developed adaptable housing that anticipates elderly residents’ possible lack of mobility, keeping essential functions on the ground floor, so that upper floors can be retained for caregivers or family visitors.
“The design of the spaces where we live, play and work should intentionally foster regular interaction across the generations. Such spontaneous encounters are not only mutually-beneficial, but they can also help combat the ageist attitudes that prevail in many parts of the world today, offering the potential to nurture a cultural shift in how people think about age and ageing.” — Stephanie Firestone, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor, AARP
Kampung Admiralty, Singapore
To ensure older people are socially connected and healthy the Kampung Admiralty residential development in Singapore was designed with supporting functions like a health centre, supermarket, bank, and day care centre on site.
This has meant that older residents can lead richer social lives, help out with childcare and enjoy a number of other recreational options without having to travel great distances.
This ‘whole community’ vision is the essence of a truly sustainable neighbourhood and represent a solution that works for all ages, from child to parent to grandparent.
A problem to learn from
Ageing populations present design problems we should all be glad to have. And for designers, architects, planners and engineers, this is an opportunity to sharpen our thinking and deepen our understanding of how the built environment can shape our ever longer lives for the better.