Cities must plan better for older communities, says new Arup report

Arup: Designing for Ageing Communities.

Catering for the elderly population must be a greater deciding factor when planning the cities of the future, according to a new report from global engineering consultancy Arup.

The report Cities Alive: Designing for Ageing Communities highlights what Arup describe as the inescapable megatrends of an ageing population and increasing urbanisation, and how these will be major drivers of change for cities worldwide – necessitating a fundamental transformation in how cities are designed, planned and operate.

With the global population of people aged over 60 expected to more than double by 2050, and a 68% increase in the number of older people living in cities between 2000-2015, the new report offers a strategy for identifying how cities and built environment professionals can better plan and design physical spaces to meet the unique priorities of older residents. 

From legal and regulatory obstacles compounding housing issues to inadequate design in the built environment for dementia sufferers and extreme weather, today’s cities offer a range of significant challenges for the elderly. The report urges property developers, designers and civic leaders to consider the four central needs of the ageing population when developing a framework for the cities of the future:

Autonomy and independence: Mobility, both inside and outside of the home, is key to retaining a sense of independence as people get older. However, costly modifications for home environments make ageing-in-place difficult, while the unpredictable quality of public transport services can make the elderly hesitant to venture outside.

Health and well-being: In many of today’s cities, zoning and other planning tools encourage spatial separation of residential and commercial areas, making it challenging for older people to access the services they need. 

Social connectedness: Older people are more likely to feel lonely and isolated, often due to a lack of interaction with the wider community. Many older people have spent years in their communities, making their knowledge, experience and memories a vital resource in urban planning. Cities must make every effort to include them, fostering a sense of ownership and pride in the process. 

Security and resilience: Many dangers that affect all members of the population are elevated for older individuals, due to a higher level of physical vulnerability. From coping with extreme weather to dealing with reduced mobility and cognition, certain hazards need special attention to ensure a city environment that is safe for all. Cities can act to mitigate threats to the built environment by retrofitting existing buildings and requiring smart changes to future construction.

Jerome Frost, director and global planning and cities leader at Arup, said: “We are seeing unprecedented trends in cities across the globe, where people of all age groups and generations are vying for space in the centres of our cities. An ageing and increasingly urban population will have major implications for cities around the world. It will change our public services, infrastructure and housing, requiring more inclusive design and new forms of housing and social care.

“This report is the second in our Cities Alive series that pinpoints areas to focus on to foster inclusive environments for all generations to enjoy. Following the Urban Childhoods publication last year, we now focus on ageing communities as a demographic that we should not, and cannot, ignore. Of course, there are many parallels between the needs of the young and the old, and both are vital to the success of future cities.”

Click here to download Cities Alive: Designing for Ageing Communities. 

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