Cities are seeing a rise in ageing populations. In the European Union (EU), 75 percent of residents live in urban areas. As urban populations continue to rise, more and more people will grow into old age. For instance, the over age 65 group makes up 20-27 percent of the population in cities inside Portugal, Italy, and Spain. Since population aging will influence health, social exchanges, and well-being of older adults, hundreds of cities are designing urban environments to foster active and healthy aging.
Urbanization affects many areas including the health and well-being of society. As a result, many sectors are collaborating to keep populations engaged and healthy. Adapting cities to demographic trends accommodates residents, allowing for independent living and participation in society. The European Commission estimates that over 75 percent of housing in the EU is not suitable for independent living. Other aspects of physical environments including adequate sidewalks, transportation, and functional green spaces can increase physical activity and improve mobility, which reduces the risk and effects of chronic disease. Social issues, such as employment discrimination, negative stereotypes, and ageism, also play a role in the health of aging populations. It is important to involve older adults’ perspectives on urban planning to identify issues and barriers which prevent participation in society.
To help cities adjust to demographic trends and support healthy ageing, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a Global Network of Age Friendly Cities and Communities and Affiliated Programs, as well as a guide for policy and action in fostering age-friendly urban environments. Over 300 cities in 33 countries are currently involved in the Global Network, including 19 Member States in the European Region. The WHO guide advises on eight areas¹ considered the most influential, which also reflect the UN Principles for Older Persons. Through the work of the European Innovation Partnership on Healthy and Active Ageing (which has a dedicated Action Group on Innovation for age friendly buildings, cities and environments) the European Commission has published a guide on innovation for aging, with examples from 12 countries in Europe.
EuroHealthNet’s Healthy Ageing website also highlights examples of initiatives and key resources on healthy and active aging throughout the European Union. Arup, Help Age International, Intel, and Systematica have produced an overview² of aging in 10 European cities with comparative data on both urbanization and aging. AGE Platform Europe published a guide³ aimed at helping European cities to use the Urban Agenda to become more age-friendly and as a repository of innovative solutions for age-friendly environments. These networks and initiatives encourage cities to be health-promoting environments as they adjust to population aging, and share innovative ideas, experiences, and lessons learned along the way.
By 2020, more than 50 percent of the global population over 60 years old will be living in urban areas. Planning now can stimulate active and healthy aging both for current and future generations.
1. The WHO guide addresses: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; and community support and health services.
2. The ”Shaping Ageing Cities” publication examines: society; mobility; built and digital environments; politics; planning; and aging.
3. The AGE Platform Europe guide addresses the eight areas in the WHO guide as well as eight themes corresponding to the Urban Agenda: inclusion of migrants and refugees; jobs and skills in the local economy; urban poverty; housing; air quality; urban mobility; digital transition; and innovative and responsible public procurement.
Carrie Peterson covers Europe for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Consultant in eHealth and Innovation.