Are our cities for the most part, designed and structured with a younger demographic in mind?
The pace of ageing population around the world is rapidly increasing.
In India, reports indicate that the percentage of older adults is estimated to increase from 8 % in 2015 to 20 % in 2050 (United Nations Population Fund, 2017).
But are seniors in India as a growing demographic being addressed in terms of availability of facilities and other factors that assist senior living?
According to the World Health Organization, older adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, throughout the week (World Health Organization, 2010). Yet national statistics in India indicate that the majority of older adults are not meeting these guidelines. (1)
Does this point towards our cities and neighbourhoods not providing our seniors with basic amenities for safe and comfortable living and facilities for physical activity?
For example, neighbourhood features related to safety (e.g., street lighting), comfort and ease of movement (e.g., pavement conditions, green space) are shown to be the strongest correlates of older adults’ mobility.
Environments that support walking and other types of physical activity also provide opportunities for staying socially active and maintaining interpersonal relationships, thus promoting higher levels of social interaction – the emotional quotient – engagement and contentment in older adults.
Our city and neighbourhood environment can either promote or hinder walking, mobility and activity as well as affect social interaction, participation, and independence in older adults.
According to WHO and the U.N – “Developing urban environments that promote healthy, active living for older adults is at the forefront of global planning policy debates, resulting in concepts and design guidelines to support population ageing. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of initiatives aimed at the development of age-friendly cities and communities. Various agendas on ‘ageing-in-place’, ‘healthy ageing’ and ‘active ageing’ have been designed to support and enable older adults to age well in urban environments” (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2017; World Health Organization, 2002, 2012).
However, low- and middle-income countries like India, are confronted with pressures of rapid urbanisation. Rapidly urbanising environments can challenge social integration and increase the risk of social exclusion among older adults. In India, urban spaces are perceived as unsafe and inaccessible for older adults with mobility restrictions.
Dr. Ramanath Jha, (Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai, works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance, and urban planning.), mentions in detail, in an article on – Senior citizens, cities and city planning; “respect and consideration for the old is an age-old custom in India and should continue — not only at home — but also on the streets, public and commercial spaces, at employment and care settings.” (2)
He goes on to enumerate – The National Policy on Older Persons (1999), Government of India, makes valuable suggestions. The policy mandates the creation of geriatric wards in hospitals and exempting the elderly from queues, training, and orientation to medical and para-medical personnel in healthcare of the elderly, mobile health services, special camps, and ambulance services for the old by charitable institutions and not-for-profit healthcare organisations. The policy further proposes elder-friendly layouts of housing colonies, ease of access to shopping complexes, community centres, parks, and other services as well as multipurpose centres for elderly people.
However, we seem to be very distant from achieving key mandates of the policy.
While cities are moving towards bettering the lives of the elderly, the ‘proliferation of large cities’ in the developing world is worrisome. If urbanisation continues this trend, then seniors would have little opportunity for ‘active or healthy ageing.’
Factors such as rising pollution, congestion, noise and costs add to the misery. For the old, megacities are clearly unsupportive.
Our cities are, for the most part, designed and structured with a younger demographic in mind. Currently, urban planning in India overlooks the importance of designing age-friendly cities.
Among older adults, poorly lit and maintained streets, lack of traffic management and lack of physical segregation between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, lack of systematic discipline on the streets contribute to increased risk and fear of falling. Stressors from the environment, such as loud horns, speeding vehicles, lack of safe pedestrian crossings, age- friendly pavements, secure ramps, and chaotic environs, can also add to older adults’ anxiety levels.
This has resulted in a compounding impact on social isolation of the more vulnerable seniors and the older community in general.
To be senior friendly our cities need some of the facilities mentioned below and many more (like access to affordable health care) which are not listed:
- Senior- friendly transport systems
- Green spaces and parks and gardens
- Benches and seats
- Safe pedestrian crossings
- Evenly paved foot paths and pavements
- Events and social activities that include seniors
- Well-lit public spaces
- Safe housing
- Easy access to basic necessities
- Citizens and communities who are educated and aware of the needs of senior people
Perhaps, its time to address the needs of our growing older population and ensure that their fundamental rights are also made a priority. Seniors deserve to look forward to some quality of existence, in their twilight years.
(1) Neighbourhood Supports for Active Ageing in Urban India – Volume: 32 issue: 2