The Movement for Age-Friendly Cities
Over the next 25 years, the number of people over the age of 65 is set to double. That’s generally good news for seniors since an increased buying power and presence will pressure businesses to appeal to the needs of the generation. Though, there are some hurdles to making cities and communities more accessible to seniors that will need to be addressed.
Efforts to Make Age-Friendly Cities
One of the biggest issues facing older adults now is that most cities aren’t built with the needs of seniors in mind.
A number of organizations have spearheaded efforts to make the changes needed to serve their senior residents better. The World Health Organization (WHO) has put together a website called “Age-Friendly World” that is full of resources on what makes a city age-friendly and best practices for cities taking steps to get there.
The AARP has supported this program by creating a database of age-friendly communities that have committed to “actively work toward making their town, city or county a great place for people of all ages.” Cities that join are provided with guidance by the AARP to help implement the kinds of changes recommended by the program.
The Milken Institute has also asked mayors across the country to sign a pledge committing to “make their cities work better for older adults and to enable older adults to strengthen their cities and improve lives for all generations through purposeful work and volunteerism.”
7 Ways to Make Cities Safer for Seniors
There are a number of steps that cities can take to make life better for seniors. Some are relatively simple, while others require embracing big projects. All of them are worth considering in light of the senior population growth across the country.
Ways to make cities more age-friendly and accessible for seniors include:
1. Adding more seating.
Standing and walking for long periods of time becomes a lot more difficult when you’re older. At that point, simply being able to find a bench nearby for a rest can make a big difference to how easy it is to traverse a city. By adding more seating around the city – at bus stops, parks and along streets with lots of pedestrian activity – cities can ensure that running errands or planning a day out is much easier on their senior residents.
2. Creating opportunities for senior socializing.
Most of these solutions relate to accessibility and infrastructure, but one of the big dangers seniors face is loneliness. City planners are encouraged to think beyond seniors’ basic physical needs and also look for solutions that will help seniors get more actively involved in the community.
That can include mixed-age cohousing projects that get seniors interacting with people of other generations. It can mean programs that match seniors with volunteer opportunities that keep them active. Or it could mean planning events around town that are specifically aimed at seniors (and that are easy for them to get to). Part of planning an age-friendly city should include thinking about the emotional and social needs of seniors.
3. Identifying and repairing trip hazards.
Over time, sidewalks crack and become uneven or have tree roots grow up underneath them – all of which can add up to making it very difficult to walk in a city without tripping. One important project cities can tackle is to identify all the trip hazards around the city and go to work fixing them.
4. Improving wheelchair accessibility.
For those that can’t walk the streets of the city at all anymore, the difficulties of getting around town and interacting with the community are even more serious.
Cities should invest in making sure public transportation is wheelchair accessible, that sidewalks are smooth and that ramp options are available in areas that currently only have stairs. New buildings should also be designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
5. Incentivizing affordable, age-friendly housing projects.
Like cities, most houses aren’t built with the needs of seniors in mind, meaning that seniors are often stuck with making costly modifications to live safely in their own homes. One thing cities can do to change that is to encourage builders to make homes that are age-friendly with incentives that make it worthwhile for them to do so.
City governments could offer tax breaks for building projects that are accessible or prioritize age-friendly development when issuing permits. Any method a city can work out that makes local builders more likely to add senior-friendly accessibility options to new apartments or houses will make it easier for seniors to stay and live there.
6. Involving seniors in urban planning.
Nobody knows what seniors need better than seniors themselves. Any committee or organization in a city that’s involved in urban planning should seek to include seniors in the decision and planning-making process. This ensures that new developments and infrastructure plans the city moves forward on are all made with the needs of the growing senior population in mind.
Having someone in the room who intimately understands what it’s like to live as a senior in your city will help bring issues to a planning committee’s attention that they’re unlikely to think about without that extra perspective. Including senior voices is therefore an important and relatively simple first step to take.
7. Providing easily accessible transit.
Most seniors reach a point where it becomes unsafe to drive. In many cities, that inability makes a big difference in whether or not they can get around town at all. Even in cities with public transportation, seniors that have difficulty walking may have trouble getting to their stop on their own.
One of the best ways cities can ensure seniors are able to meet their needs is to figure out a plan for making transportation easier. In some places, that could mean setting up door-to-door transportation services, in others it could mean adding stops on the public transportation route (and making sure all stops are accessible).
If you’re a senior and you feel your city sorely needs to start making some of these improvements, get involved. Call your local representatives to tell them specifically what you’d like to see. Ask about how to get involved with urban planning projects in your city. Encourage your family and friends to speak up on your behalf too.
When cities change for the good of seniors, everyone benefits.