Urban development must protect and promote the rights of older people and create inclusive, welcoming and supportive cities for all ages, HelpAge International argues in a new report launched ahead of the sustainable urbanisation conference Habitat III.
Two century-defining demographic trends – population ageing and urbanisation – mean the number of older people living in cities is significant and growing. Contrary to popular belief that they live primarily in rural areas, more than 500 million older men and women (58% of all older people) are urban residents, with 289 million living in low and middle-income countries.
Ageing and the city: making urban spaces work for older people argues that, despite the growing number of older people in cities, physical, social and economic barriers prevent many from realising their right to live in dignity and safety.
The development of cities centred on car use has left urban environments hostile to older people, unwelcoming and polluted. It discourages the use of streets and public spaces – restricting participation in community life, contributing to social isolation, making street-based, informal work unsafe, and leading to unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles.
The report recommends a shift towards reduced car use and traffic speeds, and the promotion of cycling, walking and public transport.
"Urban spaces should be welcoming, dense and mixed-use to create vibrant and diverse communities that allow people of all ages access to a broad range of services. Public and green spaces should be plentiful to encourage physical activity and social interaction," said Sion Jones, Urbanisation Policy Officer at HelpAge International.
A walkable, dense city in which car use is reduced will improve air quality and lower rates of non-communicable diseases. Air pollution kills more than seven million people every year, and disproportionately affects older men and women whose naturally declining lung functions leave them more vulnerable.
The report also highlights older people's safety and security in cities in their everyday life and in the event of humanitarian emergencies.
Conflict is becoming more and more urbanised, and urban growth is often in locations prone to earthquakes, droughts and floods. Older people are among the most vulnerable when a disaster strikes.
"For some of us, it is difficult to get downstairs when there is an earthquake alert, so we stay where we are," an older women from Mexico's capital Mexico City says in the report.
"If you can get out, you get out. If not, you stay there and die because nobody is going to come and help."
Sion Jones added: "Older people must be involved in disaster preparedness planning to ensure their needs are understood and met in the event of a humanitarian crisis.
"City planners must also ensure older men and women's personal safety and security, particularly in public spaces and on public transport, to prevent crime, and the fear of crime, becoming a barrier to their participation in the community."
Ageing and the city features a number of case studies of how cities can better protect and promote the rights of their older residents.
The Ukrainian civil society organisation Turbota pro Litnih v Ukraini has helped improve public transport for older people by securing mechanisms to report poor or discriminatory bus services, extending routes to poorly served districts and obtaining free off-peak travel.
In Bolivia, where the vast majority of dementia cases are undiagnosed, volunteer groups are advocating for better trained staff, increased screening and diagnosis, and greater awareness among the general public about the condition in the cities of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz de la Sierra. This helps make urban environments more socially inclusive where recognition and understanding of dementia is limited.
"Habitat III's New Urban Agenda, along with the Sustainable Development Goals and the World Humanitarian Summit, have all recognised the compelling need to make cities inclusive," said Justin Derbyshire, Chief Executive Officer at HelpAge International.
"This report argues for concerted action from governments and city authorities to protect and promote people's rights no matter their age.
"We must reclaim urban space to create welcoming, supportive and inclusive cities where everyone can earn a living, stay physically active and interact with others across generations."
Download the report: http://www.helpage.org/download/57fb5db5e475e
Sion Jones, Urbanisation Policy Officer at HelpAge International, is available to interview, and will be attending Habitat III.
International media contact:
Ben Small, Digital Communications and Media Officer, HelpAge International
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7148 7628
Mobile: + 44 (0) 7746 639 736
About Habitat III
Habitat III is the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to take place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 – 20 October 2016. It will reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanisation, focusing on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.
About HelpAge International
HelpAge International is a global network of organisations promoting the right of all older people to lead dignified, healthy and secure lives.