Building age-friendly cities and communities: to enable generations to live together?
The impact of population ageing on the economy and health care is much discussed. But where older people live is important as well. Dr. Tine Buffel discusses how can cities adapt to ageing populations.
Cities are likely to have 25% or more of their populations aged 60 and over by 2030. This is raising urgent questions such as: how can cities adapt to ageing populations? How can the resources of the city be harnessed to improve the lives of older people?
One response has been the move – led by the World Health Organization (WHO) – to create ‘age-friendly’ cities, with the development of the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. Launched in 2010, the Network has grown from a handful of members to one covering over 700 cities and communities across the Global North and South. Some of the key actions arising from age-friendly work have included:
- challenging stereotypes of older people;
- re-designing and improving access to outdoor spaces;
- strengthening support networks within neighbourhoods;
- and campaigns tackling social isolation and loneliness.
But the barriers to age-friendly work are increasingly apparent. Age-friendly initiatives have run parallel with the impact of economic austerity. Many cities in the WHO network have faced reductions in services supporting older people, examples including the closure of senior centres, libraries, and the rationing of home-based care. The debate around age-friendly cities has created an important agenda for re-thinking the way in which we manage our urban environments. Some of the questions raised include: do older people have a ‘right’ to a share of urban space? Is the idea of ‘age-friendly’ caring communities compatible with modern urbanisation?
Our book Age-Friendly Cities and Communities: A Global Perspective* offers a ‘Manifesto for Change’ for the age-friendly movement, built around four key themes: first, challenging social inequality; second, building new urban partnerships; third, developing neighbourhood support; fourth, co-researching age-friendly communities.
*Buffel, T., Handler, S. and Phillipson, C. (Eds), Age-Friendly Cities and Communities: A Global Perspective. Bristol: Policy Press https://policy.bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/age-friendly-cities-and-communities
Dr. Tine Buffel is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, School of Social Sciences, Sociology, Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing.