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Ageing as a life long process

Explore how cities can be designed for ageing as a life-long process.

The way our cities are designed impacts the quality of people’s lives. This is especially important as we age. We don’t suddenly become old. Ageing is a lifelong process.

Young and old in Bisaran, Kurdistan province. Salar Arkan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Designing cities for ageing

By designing the urban form and the transport system for ageing we can influence citizens’ active ageing and social inclusion and ensure they can access the opportunities they need to go about their daily lives.

Designers, planners, and policy shapers need to understand how ageing factors impact the use of the city and how we can design for better outcomes in relation to inclusivity and equity.

Ageing as a life long process

If we design cities so that they are inclusive for an ageing population, then we design for everyone. The key focus is on designing health promoting environments, for both physical and mental health. This focus requires us to view ageing as a lifelong process that encompasses:

  • formative years
  • working age
  • retirement and older age.

Laying the right foundations in our formative years, such as adopting healthy habits can help prevent, limit or postpone some of the challenges linked to ageing. Lifelong learning is a key component of this as continuous learning provides opportunities to continue working and participating in society.

At each stage there are challenges and opportunities to provide for healthy and active living, to ensure productivity, connectivity and wellbeing. At any age, we can continue to be active and make a valuable contribution to society and the economy; and this doesn’t only mean via paid work. Volunteering counts too!

With life expectancy increasing by 10 years over the last 50 years, the European Union’s old age dependency ratio is projected to increase from 34% in 2021 to 59% by 2070. This means there will be fewer people of working age relative to those in older age. It is important that city planning contributes to providing for citizens to maintain good health and provide for their continued participation in our society.

Designing cities for ageing as a lifelong process

There are many ways to design our cities to ensure they provide for ageing as a lifelong process, for example:

  • providing accessibility of opportunity, such as access to education and training, access to childcare centres and aged care centres; and distributing retail and workplaces throughout the city.
  • ensuring transport systems deliver accessibility to these opportunities.
  • designing public spaces and buildings to limit accidents and promote healthy activity.
  • designing the urban structure to enable and promote active mobility (walking and cycling). This means, thinking carefully about where the activities people need to access are located, and providing the right transport infrastructure. This also helps to reduce transport emissions and lower pollution.

Universal access

Seeking to prevent or lower the risk of disability through design for lifelong ageing is critical. However, with ageing there is an increased likelihood of citizens having reduced physical mobility. The public transport systems must be designed for ‘universal access’ so that there are no unintended barriers to access the following:

  • vehicles, the stops and stations and their associated infrastructure
  • footpaths
  • public squares
  • cycleways.

Further resources

If you would like to explore some of the concepts we have covered in more depth, the following resource is optional.

EU Green Paper on Ageing: Fostering solidarity and responsibility between generations. 2021. European Commission

© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility
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Inclusive Mobility for an Ageing Population

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