Making cities more livable, healthy and age-friendly for the future four-generation urban society is critical and a competitive advantage for cities who act swiftly and decisivel
Rapid urbanization will continue concentrating more than 65% of the world's population in cities by 2050 along with rapid aging, smaller households and fewer children as global phenomena that forces us to reconsider our lifestyles and urban environments. Healthy and age-friendly city concepts are becoming increasingly vital, and the Covid-19 pandemic has become an additional trigger bringing current urban livability and inclusiveness challenges to the surface.
Making cities more livable and fit for the future of the emerging four-generation urban society with more old people and fewer children is critical and doing so will be a competitive advantage for cities who act swiftly and decisively. This will include adjusting urban areas, public spaces, infrastructure facilities and buildings to make the cities healthy and age-inclusive considering needs of the elderly, children and people with special needs.
The topic has been discussed mainly separately as healthy city, age-friendly city and children-friendly city, a unified definition of what is a healthy and age-friendly city is still emerging. In many developed cities around the world we can find many actions and plans for the elder as well as for children. They are often fragmented, along administrative departments and not integrated into a holistic vision for the overall city and often ideas remain on the shelves and on the walls of city halls. The aspects and of children, elderly and health in cities share common visions and actions of urban livability and universal accessibility, safety and environmental and economic sustainability, while some aspects are distinct and require specific features.
To establish a framework for healthy and age-friendly cities we are proposing to integrate planning and consultation and investment prioritization work across sectors and administrative departments in a city along 6 dimension: community, public spaces and buildings, transport, housing, basic infrastructure, and health services. This is a conclusion from numerous guidelines and if those 6 dimensions are considered with healthy and age-friendly objectives and targets and planned and implemented in an integrated way, a city may become healthy and age-friendly.
The key to forming a vibrant community is to encourage community events, as well as participation from people of various ages and ethnic backgrounds, to ensure that everyone feels included in the community. All age groups are respected and included in social gatherings and decision-making.
All age groups must be given the opportunity to share their knowledge, histories, and experience with future generations. Because many people feel isolated and lonely, there must be activities that will improve their mental health. Despite sharing their stories, it is critical to provide them with the opportunity to learn and work once more. Another important component in building a robust and varied society is encouraging jobs and lifelong learning for people of all ages.
Software policy is another effective instrument for fostering community by encouraging clear and accessible communications and information for individuals of all ages. People must feel connected to their communities through the creation of digital and physical networks.
2. Public spaces and buildings
Adjusting public spaces and buildings to be safe and accessible is one of the most important things to do in order to have a healthy and inclusive city. Cities should make parks more appealing by providing adequate shelter, restroom facilities, and easily accessible seats, as well as providing access to and opportunity to engage with the natural environment. Encourage active and safe transportation to and from work and school and health facilities and elderly housing and care facilities.
Prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists is another pillar that should be a top priority; infrastructure should be improved to facilitate walking and cycling, and traffic calming measures must be implemented. To build compact neighborhoods, increase local walkability, and improve street connectivity and public realm, should be the mission of every mayor and leader in the city.
A powerful tool is to apply universal design principles to all public places and buildings, such as sidewalks, plazas, parks, public buildings and services, and transportation systems. Elevators, ramps, proper signs, stair railings, steps that are not excessively high or steep, non-slip floors, rest rooms with comfortable chairs, and enough public toilets are all required features in all buildings.
Making cities healthier requires rethinking public transportation; it should become more affordable and accessible, safe, reliable and frequent, vehicles should follow universal design principles. Citizens should have many alternative mobility options for combining public transportation with other forms of travel. Cities must consider economical taxis and parking lots for particular needs in addition to a good public transportation system and service. Being able to move freely gives people a sense of independence and empowerment. Active transportation like walking and cycling and public transit systems should be built to support community independence, ensuring that everyone has equal and safe access to all services.
Cities and the private sector should provide social and affordable housing for specific vulnerable groups, people living with chronic conditions, and the homeless, and households for the elderly and children. Therefore, it is important to create diverse housing typologies that have a mix of uses and for all kinds of needs and requirements.
WHO’s concept of “aging in place” should be enabled through an adequate housing supply with elderly-friendly (but also with family- and children-friendly) buildings and apartments, complemented by home-based and community-based elderly care services and play areas and local child-care facilities. To prevent loneliness and isolation cities should encourage multigenerational housing and community integration both on the building and neighborhood environment levels. Moreover, buildings should also be energy-efficient and with daylight and natural ventilation, and housing modifications should be affordable.
5. Basic Infrastructure
Basic infrastructure plays another important role for a fair, gender- and age-inclusive city. Policies and actions should improve air quality and reduce exposure to air pollution; ensure access for all to safe and secure drinking water; ensure access to sanitation and wastewater management; ensure clean surface water; ensure proper solid waste management, including hazardous waste management (also medical waste); reduce excessive noise; and reduce risk of flooding. Social infrastructure should ensure equal opportunities and access to education from early childhood education to lifelong learning.
Municipalities should also increase access to healthier food for the general population, decrease exposure to unhealthy food environments, increase access to healthier food in schools and elderly care facilities, and increase access to retail outlets selling healthier food. Promote urban agriculture, provide adequate garden spaces for urban communities.
Furthermore, addressing climate change will aid in the development of healthy cities. lowering flood risk and the urban heat island effect; urban green and blue areas; climate change mitigation and adaptation. Municipalities should manage disaster risks, and prepare response plans and mechanisms, to ensure a safe and clean environment for everyone.
6. Health Services
Cities must ensure that health-, elderly care and other social services are well-distributed throughout the city, are conveniently co-located, and can be reached readily by all means of transportation. Creating an adequate and diverse range of health and community support and engagement services inclusive of residence-based personal care, community care and institutional care to promote, maintain, and restore health, will have a positive impact on the quality life of citizens of all age groups.
In tackling those 6 dimensions it is important to cooperate across administrative departments, other public and private stakeholders, communities and people of all age-groups to find common ground. It will have a greater impact on the city once common ground is found through a participative process.
Cities should create a long-term vision and and healthy and age-friendly city action and management plan engaging all relevant stakeholders and hear the voices from all age groups. The starting point can be global events as well as local community events that will trigger people to become champions making their city more healthy and age-friendly.