James Parkinson is Policy Manager at RIBA and co-authored its Silver Linings report.

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

Societies have always revolved around the majority; from popular culture to economic growth, it has been the youth defining the state of the nation. Our cities are products of that history and older generations have often had to ‘make do’ in a world that wasn’t necessarily designed for them.

As our society ages; with increasing numbers of older people living, working and participating in mainstream society for longer, we will start to see the influence of their growing presence affect the way we make decisions about the design of our cities.

However, we need a real debate about what that will mean. At present, we still consider this a challenge; a burden on public resources and a compromise in the way we have to think about making buildings and public spaces ‘inclusive’ or ‘accessible’. This attitude will not allow us to harness the incredible opportunity for older people to contribute to both the economic and social life of our cities.

Take the high street; currently struggling as trade and retail moves elsewhere, which in turn is undermining its social role at the heart of our communities. Could an active, older population galvanise our high streets to give them a new lease of life? Could we see them hosting many more local services, from health and wellbeing to new products for savvy older consumers?

Could they better support recreation and active lifestyles with a new emphasis on public spaces that accommodate sports or fitness classes, allotments or just better opportunities to meet and interact? What about facilitating intergenerational exchange, perhaps mentor/apprentice relationships between older, skilled people and younger generations? Or opportunities for flexible working practice, with spaces for older people to work locally for part of the week as they wind down to retirement? 

There is significant scope to shift the emphasis of urban ageing away from the ‘time bomb’ rhetoric and onto a debate about how cities can promote more innovative and flexible models of working, learning and maintaining an active lifestyle. We have to think smarter about everything from housing and infrastructure to public health budgets and incentives for enterprise.

Life is a journey and our cities must better reflect the various stages we move through, being flexible and responsive enough to ensure that we can all continue to remain active participants as we grow older. A city that is good for older people, should be good for everyone.

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?

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