Shaping Aging Cities

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.23.33 AMARUP recently revealed a new report focused on how Europe is responding to aging populations, especially in an urban age. According to the report, in 2050 the number of older people will be greater than the number of children under the age of 15, a first in human history. This revelation underscores the need to review failing policies that don’t effectively address the needs of aging populations. Here, we feature an excerpt from the report.

Aging and Digital Environment

The WHO Age Friendly Cities program creates a useful framework for thinking about the opportunities and challenges of urban living for older people and for reflecting upon the role of established, emerging and future technologies, and the data they create, in oft en rapidly changing towns and cities. A general trend away from the provision of residential or institutional care for older people towards ‘hybrid’ models of public and private care and various solutions for long term independent living or ‘aging-in-place’ has direct implications for how cities, communities and citizens of all ages have to think about the later part of the life course.

The concept ‘Aging-in-place’ is often taken to refer to people being able to continue to live within the bricks and mortar of their own homes. Technology discussions in this field often focus on important issues such as, for example, how telecare systems allow for rapid reporting and response, how sensors might detect falls among older people living alone or identify temperature drops in the houses of those living in fuel poverty and substandard housing conditions. However, it is of equal importance that we think of ‘place’ more broadly in relation to the communities, neighborhoods, spaces and networks in which we work, play and live. According to the Age UK Evidence Review in 2010, 7 percent of people aged 65+ in the United Kingdom always or often feel lonely and between 11 percent and 17 percent are socially isolated. There are literally millions of older people in European cities who rarely or never leave their homes for social, emotional, financial or mobility reasons.

WiFi public hotspots, from Top, clockwise: London, Brussels, Dublin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam

WiFi public hotspots, from Top, clockwise: London, Brussels, Dublin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam

When designing around ‘aging-in-place’ we have to consider the routines, abilities, and practices of the older person and their relationship to their wider networks and communities of geography, interest and practice. A city may pride itself on the extent of its transport links and infrastructure, but ‘kneeling’ buses that arrive regularly every 15 minutes are still inaccessible for those unable to get to the bus stop or bring themselves to overcome fears of an unsafe street. Urban planners, service providers and technologists need to go further and creatively seek solutions about how they can help people, when needed, get door to door, arm-to-arm assistance to get to their destinations, navigate the high street or supermarket aisle or provide intelligent pedestrian crossings that allow adequate time to cross the road. Advancements in emerging technologies, such as robotics, biotechnologies, artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, could in the near future be utilized to improve the life and independence of older people in our cities. Autonomous vehicles that provide tailored and safe transport across and outside the city, therapeutic solutions that maximize impact at a personal level while reducing side effects, and mechanized home support that helps people with daily tasks or even contributes to forms of companionship, are all currently researched and tested for real life usage.

Emerging, disruptive and established technologies, however, have to be seen as one component, an ‘ingredient’, of much larger solutions that take into account older persons’ skills, needs and desires, as well as the constraints under which care delivery systems increasingly operate. Future design needs to consider how to augment rather than replace existing social interaction and to empower rather than disempower at the levels of both personal and civic participation.

The combination of a well-informed environment and age-friendly digital solutions is the key to creating prosperous and smart urban environments. ‘Old age’ and ‘technology’ are very complex concepts that are sometimes used as simple categories. To design successful technologies for the later part of the life course and support independent living in the urban space, we have to be mindful of the nuances of daily life and focus on the contributions as well as needs of the older segments of our populations

Get the entire report.

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