The global population is both urbanizing and aging at historically unprecedented rates, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Fifty-seven percent of the world’s older people — that’s 900 million — live in towns and cities, and that figure is projected to rise to over 2 billion by 2050. There are already more older people living in Latin American cities than the entire populations of São Paulo, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Bogota and Lima combined, while in African cities, it is more than the entire populations of Lagos, Cairo and Nairobi combined.
This will change the way we live, work, play, socialize and experience our urban environments throughout our lives and into older age. This year’s Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, provides a unique opportunity to ensure that our growing cities respond to aging urban populations with perspectives and policies that can build inclusive, sustainable, secure and prosperous communities for all.
As co-chair of Habitat III’s Older Persons Partner Constituent Group, working to ensure older city-dwellers worldwide receive fair representation in the development of the New Urban Agenda, which will be adopted in Quito, I offer 10 critical areas deserving closer attention.
Build cities for all — Our rights in the city are often compromised, particularly in older age, due to the social, economic and spatial characteristics of our cities. Negative ageist stereotypes and a lack of understanding of the diversity of old age often leads to the marginalizing of older citizens. We must ensure cities are places where everyone can enjoy the fulfillment of their rights, regardless of their age. Cities must combat age discrimination in all its forms to ensure our rights are protected and promoted throughout our lives.
Invest in sustainable transport — Affordable, accessible and appropriate public transport becomes increasingly relevant in older age for maintaining social connectedness with family and friends and providing access to services and work. It also reduces air pollution and congestion, creating pleasant places for people to live, work and enjoy themselves.
Create accessible green and public spaces — Secure and accessible green public spaces facilitate intergenerational community interaction, support livelihood opportunities, encourage physical activity and provide spaces for contemplation and rest from city life.
Foster intergenerational communities — Cities are home to diverse and varied people of all ages. Our communities must encourage social and intergenerational interaction and develop neighbor and community relationships to expand our social support networks, strengthen our resilience to humanitarian emergencies and combat social isolation.
Design housing for life — Affordable, secure and tenured housing must be provided for all, with flexible design to cope with our changing needs as we age. Housing policies must support tenure rights, particularly for older women, and recognize the inherent value of informal settlements and the social networks that people rely on. We must enjoy the right to age in place and be provided with different options as to how and where we wish to live our lives.
Recognize informal street-based livelihoods — Urban life is expensive, and many older people live in poverty or work in the informal economy, offering limited security. The role of streets and public spaces in facilitating individual and small-scale informal economic activity, vital to the livelihoods of millions in low- and middle-income countries and particularly in older age, should be recognized. Changes to public spaces must avoid disrupting these vital income-generating activities and provide improved, safer wealth-building opportunities for all.
Promote healthy urban environments — As more and more of us live longer, we see increasing rates of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, among city-dwellers. Seventy-five percent of people who live with a non-communicable disease are over 60 while two-thirds live in urban environments that discourage physical activity, lack green spaces and encourage bad diets. Urban environments should promote healthy eating and active lifestyles to combat high rates of non-communicable diseases. Access to affordable healthy food options, environments that encourage walking and cycling, and safe green and public spaces are vital.
Combat air pollution — Significant reductions in vehicle, industrial and indoor air pollution are required to reduce the estimated seven million deaths globally a year due to heart disease, stroke and acute respiratory infections linked to air pollution.
Plan for living with dementia — The number of urban residents living with dementia is predicted to double every 20 years, with 58 percent already living in cities in low- and middle-income countries. Services, streets and public spaces should be designed to support the increasing number of people living with dementia in cities through dementia awareness training for service providers, the provision of calm and safe spaces to reduce anxiety and the presence of identifiable community features and landmarks that aid in the legibility of streets and communities.
Strengthen disaster resilience and response — Cities must strengthen the resilience of whole communities, including older people, who face insecurity from climate change, conflict and humanitarian disasters. Building community resilience and responding appropriately to disasters requires building on older people’s knowledge, experience and social networks to ensure safety and security for all.
This piece is part of a series of reported articles and op-eds that Next City is publishing related to preparations for the United Nations’ Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016. With a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, we’re covering the critical issues at stake on the road to creating a “New Urban Agenda,” and hosting events at PrepCom III in Surabaya, Indonesia, in July 2016, and in Quito.
Sion Jones is the urbanisation policy officer at HelpAge International and co-chair of the Older Persons Partner Constituent Group for Habitat III.