Cities Not Fit for Ageing Populations
The Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design has spent the last two years in researching and assessing the suitability of Hong Kong’s urban environment in encouraging active urban ageing and in identifying actions and interventions that could lead to significant improvements towards meeting the basic needs of an increasing elderly population.
Active-Ageing; Experiential; Empathy; Barriers; Affordances
Along with China’s one child policy, the demographic shift caused by ageing populations in developed economies has been exacerbated by the global trend to urbanisation. The challenge of providing adequate urban elderly care has become pressing, yet the focus up to now has primarily been on providing adequate elderly residential facilities, whereas the frequently presented preference for ‘ageing in place’ coupled with a clear necessity for increased ‘care in the community’ that addresses the shortfall in public healthcare support, has in fact positioned the wider urban public realm as the critical battleground for support of the aged.
GETTING SOME FACTS
ITS OFFICIAL, WE NEED MORE TOILETS
DOES IT REALLY MATTER?
As many developed countries move towards the problems of ageing populations, making our cities more age enabled to all sectors of society becomes essential. Being active through ageing is important and accessibility to quality landscape areas in particular makes it easy and enjoyable to get out on foot. Uneven paving, steps, a lack of rest opportunities or insufficient toilet provision can all act as barriers to elderly wanting to take a walk whereas access to daylight, the natural environment and sociable places act as affordances. It’s the challenge of the journey from the home to the destination that has a key impact on decision making. Just one thing wrong or difficult can stop elderly getting out and about, so the design of the physical environment is critically important. Details such as having arms on seats to help get up or down and choosing materials that don’t get too hot or cold can make a huge difference (Ward Thompson 2018).
In better understanding the issues of keeping active it is noteworthy that people are simply more likely to walk if they are outside rather than being indoors. Getting outside can also help to avoid social isolation and the resultant problems of loneliness and mental health. The body also needs vitamin ‘D’ through sunlight and daylight can affect our circadian rhythms and impact sleep quality. Technology providing a ‘virtual and artificial landscape’ can never replace the real thing. Better pedestrian environments, which are pleasant, shaded and can activate the senses by hearing birdsong, smelling flowers, and enjoying the change of weather and season are important (Ward Thompson 2018).
Barry Wilson is an Urban Designer, Landscape Architect, part time professor, public speaker, writer, climate reality leader and advocate for change.
Barry Wilson Project Initiatives Ltd have been tackling urbanisation issues in Hong Kong and China for over 20 years. (www.initiatives.com.hk).
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Census & Statistics Department, HKSAR Government. Hong Kong population projections for 2017- 2066[EB/OL]. [2019-04-15]. https://www.censtatd.gov. hk/press_release/pressReleaseDetail.jsp?charsetID=1&- pressRID=4200. HKSAR Government. Census and Statistics Department for the 2016 Population By-census[EB/OL]. [2019- 04-15]. https://www.bycensus2016.gov.hk/en/index.html. Ward Thompson, Catharine. 2018. An Ecology of Urban Spaces. 26 September[EB/OL]. [2019-04-15]. http:// www.initiatives.com.hk/180926-an-ecology-of-urbanspaces.html. Suar D. Global age-friendly cities: A guide[J]. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 2008, 127(5): 507-509.