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Redefining Public Spaces for Older People

The elderly population in cities is growing, and research points to the health benefits of an active, connected lifestyle. So why are cities still so inhospitable to aging?
March 18, 2015, 5am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Garry Knight

Anne Karpf writes about why many older people see the city as a hostile place. "Cities are designed for a mythical average person – super-mobile, without dependents or disabilities but with a cast-iron bladder. This person is more likely to be young than old. And yet by 2030, two-thirds of the world's population will be living in cities and, in high-income societies, a quarter of them will be over the age of 60."

Today, that demographic tends to stay in perceived indoor comfort. And that's not good. From the article: "There's a paradox at the heart of cities and old people, and it's this: all the research on health and well-being – and there's reams of it – suggests that old people are more content and more likely to flourish if they go out, participate in local life and have a decent amount of social interaction."

Karpf argues that we perceive aging incorrectly, as an isolated personal "problem" rather than a phase of life with unique public and spatial requirements.

Official overtures to the age-friendly city, says Karpf, often feel like empty sloganeering. But there are many ways cities can open up to old people. "And then I realise that I've been looking in the wrong place – searching for the grand gesture, the sweeping change: age-friendly by government fiat. In reality, age-friendly changes are taking place all around us at the level where most of us live – locally and hyper-locally." The article details several examples of these local changes in action.

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, March 15, 2015 in The Guardian
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