Chris Phillipson is Professor of Sociology and Social Gerontology in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester

All blogs are the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Age.

By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will be residing in cities. Furthermore, by that time, the major urban areas of the world will see 25 per cent or more of their population comprised of people aged 60 and over. In a recent British Academy report into tackling Health Inequalities, we discussed the importance of building ‘age friendly environments’. In addition to influencing healthy life expectancy, this could improve the independence, participation and wellbeing of older people. 

One of the key points we’d like to raise is that place matters. It matters to all age groups, but may be especially important for younger and older age groups. Older people may be more sensitive to change in their in their physical and built environment. This is because of the  large proportion of  time spent in the home and surrounding neighbourhood and because of its  significance for the maintenance of identity. Studies have also shown that older adults residing “…in physically deteriorated neighbourhoods [are more likely] to perceive that social support is less available to them…[in comparison with] elders who reside in better-maintained neighbourhoods”.

There are many different kinds of interventions that can be introduced to improve the lives of older people residing in urban communities, such as:

•    promoting opportunities for social integration and leisure activities; 
•    urban design that promotes interaction and mobility for pedestrians; 
•    affordable and accessible housing that allows older adults to remain in  familiar neighbourhoods; and 
•    a wide range of transport and mobility options. 

On a practical level, we feel that it is important for older people themselves to participate at planning stages; it makes sense for those who will benefit most from the changes to be engaged from the start in identifying priorities. Localised action is also key, as this allows for greater tailoring to specific circumstances, environmental context and evidence, and for greater community engagement, participation and partnership. 

Currently, there are a range of cities illustrating specific actions to improve the lives of older people, focused around outdoor space, transport, housing, civic participation, community and health services and other features central to the built environment. The WHO website provides ongoing information on international innovations in age-friendly cities. This contribution reviews initiatives associated with the development of age-friendly communities, with a particular focus on policies targeted at older people living in urban areas. 

In our report for the British Academy we cited Manchester and York as examples of two UK cities currently striving to become age-friendly, and it is vital that the end results of changes and new policies are evaluated, so that best practices can be shared. With the responsibility for health now being handed over to local authorities, there is scope to make these changes now to provide a better future for older generations by 2030.

The British Academy debate, The best years of our lives takes place in Edinburgh on 29th April.

What do you think needs to happen to make the UK the best country to grow older in?

What concerns you most about growing older and why?

Please leave us or the blogger a comment below.

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