According to the recent report of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, one in three US households will include at least one 65 or older member by 2035. If developed countries generally tend to grow older, the trend is particularly visible in cities, which are growing older more quickly than rural areas. The number of over-65s in urban areas in OECD countries rose by 23.8% between 2001 and 2011.

This population of “Baby Boomers” (and older) intends to age in place and be autonomous as long as possible. In France, more and more very old people are living alone instead of living with their relatives. And the concentration of shops, transport and healthcare services is logically one of the main arguments for seniors to live – and stay – in cities.

But are cities ready for this fragile population? Nothing could be less certain: as more and more seniors plan to stay, they will have to face many challenges to enhance the accessibility of the urban infrastructure, from housing to transport. Keeping cities accessible to their older citizens is also a first step to better inclusion of this frail population, and a better coexistence with younger generations to fight against their potential social isolation.

From homes to public spaces : accessibility is the key

accessible cities

Aging in place is closely linked to the capacity to enhance the comfort and the accessibility of senior homes. But we are far from meeting these needs : in the US, only 1% of housing stock is actually equipped with “universal design” elements that help keeping residents in their homes – such as no-step entrances, single-floor living or wide halls.

In parallel to these necessary adjustments, new paths are merging to both age at home and tackle loneliness. Senior cohabitation, intergenerational housing and multi-generational urban projects are getting more and more popular. In the US, multigenerational homes are back in style: more than 60.6 million Americans are currently living with at least one of their grandparents. Some developers took that trend seriously, and built homes with separate entrances, double kitchens and even separate floors: the first one for the aging parents, the second for the rest of the family.

The question of accessibility is not limited to the housing unit; the way streets and access to transport are designed also matters. Small elements can turn into major obstacles for older citizens, and deeply effect their autonomy and quality of life. Some cities embraced this issue with ambitious planning projects to be more accessible for both disabled and elderly people. Berlin plans to be 100% accessible by 2020 with widened pavements, the installation of tactile guiding tools at road crossings and an easier access to transport. In Japan, which has the oldest population in the world, building age-friendly cities is a national priority. Cities foster the concept of compactness, and promote high density and proximity between residential areas and services. The Guardian

Staying healthy in the city thanks to sport and nature

health granny

Universal design does not only enhance seniors’ autonomy, it also fits in with their specific health needs. Cities can actively contribute to the preservation of their health by providing fitness activities in public spaces. In Barcelona, more than 300 senior playgrounds have already been installed. They help the elderly to fight against surplus weight and the loss of autonomy due to aging, but they are also great places to socialize.

For these two reasons, the Dutch city of Eindhoven recently launched Kwiek, an urban exercise route cleverly using street furniture to encourage the elderly to exercise. The tiles designed by the Studio Lvwp turn a bench into a place to exercise your legs, or a lamp post into a spot to stretch your shoulders.

Living near green spaces has a positive impact on seniors’ health too. TKF Foundation released a report that highlights the numerous benefits of nearby nature for older people. It demonstrates that seniors living near parks, or tree-lined streets where they can take walks, benefit from a higher life expectancy. Nature in town has other benefits along with longevity, particularly on mental health, cognitive functions and socialization skills. NextCity

Retired – but not missing ! Playing an active role in the community 

Lata 65

Enhancing accessibility and health is a partial answer for a population that often suffers from loneliness once retired. As we said in a previous Focus, 43% of aging Americans report “feeling lonely on a regular basis”. Various initiatives are made across the world to include old people, and celebrate their wisdom, knowledge and creativity.

The concept of the Enoteca Maria in Staten Island is pretty similar to the Oma’s Pop-Up we introduced before: the kitchen only hires grannies. If there were just Italian grandmas at first, a dozen of women from all over the world like Argentina, Algeria or Syria now cook dishes from their native countries. Customers sometimes travel a long way to enjoy the traditional meals of these grannies, who regularly get standing ovations from their guests.

But not everyone is a masterchef. How to keep the elderly active in their community? The Lata 65 organization in Lisbon answered this with an original project: urban workshops on street art. The founder Lara Pebble Rodrigues uses street art as a tool to bridge the gap between generations, creating a new common ground between young and old. Far from being recalcitrant, the participants were very enthusiastic about discovering a new way to express their creativity, and making their own graffiti. Already over 100 senior citizens around the city have attended the workshops, and some of them even claimed that street art has given them a new lease of life. Telegraph