Age Friendly Cities

I recently visited a town which it seemed had been specifically built for cars, with pathways and crossings miles away from shop entrances, zig-zagging around dual carriage ways and roundabouts, requiring a much longer walk than a sensible a to b route. This article from The Guardian filled me hope that things are changing, and places may be becoming more accessible.

Here is my abridged version:

“Stand at the traffic lights on a major street in any city. Now, when the green man invites you, try to cross the road. Unless you have the acceleration of an Olympic sprinter, the chances are that the beeps will stop, the green man will flash and cars will rev impatiently before you’ve reached the sanctuary of the other side. Especially if you have a disability, are pushing a buggy or laden with shopping. Or are old. The Department of Health says the average walking speed demanded by pedestrian crossings is 1.2 metres a second, while the average speed of the older pedestrian is just 0.7 to 0.9 metres per second.

About half of people over 65 face problems getting outdoors; for them the city is an inhospitable place, with its cluttered streets, uneven pavements, poor lighting and signage. Details – like the bus driver who moves off before you have time to sit down, or doesn’t park close enough to the kerb – have a huge impact on their sense of confidence and safety. But if they stay in – in “self-imposed house arrest”, as Chris Phillipson, professor of sociology and social gerontology at the University of Manchester, calls it – their physical and mental health is liable to deteriorate, and they’re prone to isolation and depression.

In 2006, the World Health Organisation set up its Age-Friendly Cities project, which shows how the physical and social environment can help people “age actively”. Now 258 cities and communities have signed up to what has become a global network, with Manchester in 2010 the first British city to join.

In the newly reopened Whitworth gallery all the guides are trained to be “dementia-friendly”. Manchester’s Band on the Wall club is reclaimed every couple of months for clubbers over 50. Then there are age-friendly allotments, with raised beds to make them accessible to people in wheelchairs, age-friendly gardens (no steps), and in Newcastle the “vitality bench” (arm-rests that help you get up, and warm-to-touch materials).

Other countries are innovating, too. Lyon’s “cyclopousse” is a delightful pedicab transport service tailored for older people. The Adeg and Kaiser supermarket chains in Germany have wider aisles, non-skid floors, lower shelves, brighter lighting, larger price labels and magnifying labels hanging from chains.”

Changes put in place to make cities more accessible and friendly for older people, mean they will be more accessible and friendly for all of us. Let’s hope more cities and communities get involved! 


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