Over 40 cities from across the world signed the Dublin Declaration this week showing their commitment to creating age-friendly cities.
Alongside Dublin and 9 counties in Ireland a diverse range of cities including Mexico City, Manchester and New York have signed up.
In doing so they have declared they will work to meet actions based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Age-Friendly Cities Guide:
- awareness of older people, their rights, their needs, their potentials.
- developing citizen centred processes.
- develop urban and other public places that are inclusive.
- include housing for older people that is of the highest quality.
- public transport systems available to older people.
- promote the participation of older people in social and cultural life.
- promote and support the development of employment and volunteering opportunities.
- ensure support and health services are available to older people.
The signing ceremony was the culmination of the first WHO international conference on age-friendly cities, which aims to be the first step in building a global network of cities. The over-arching theme of the conference has been about building momentum, making sure that cities can build on the work of the pilot projects, which led to the age-friendly cities checklist.
Voice of older people
There have been some inspiring speakers – reminding everyone that an ageing society is an opportunity not a burden. All the speakers from age-friendly cities agreed that the voice of older people had to be at the centre of the initiative. Older people not only participated, sharing their views and experiences, but also offered leadership to make sure it led to action.
All the cities have made their own way to become age-friendly cities.
We heard how an older people’s group led the way in La Plata, Argentina. Faced with local authorities that said that broken pavements and poor transport were not their problem, the group set their own action plan and took it to the authorities. Now they are working together on implementing the plan.
On the other hand in Quebec, Canada, the Minister responsible for Seniors has led the way to build an action plan. But, crucially, recognising it could only be achieved with a thorough understanding of seniors living conditions and getting their full participation in the process.
There was recognition from speakers that in difficult financial times promoting this initiative was not necessarily easy. Yet they were keen to show that this was not about more money but changing attitudes.
This is no simple task. There are multiple agencies and departments that build cities and keep them running. But the idea is, if you are going to have an age-friendly city, everyone needs to be making decisions through an age-friendly lens.
For instance, when you are going to be replacing the bus shelters anyway, think about what older people might want and, if you do not know what that is, go and ask them.
Need to act now
This optimism was set against speakers that wanted us to wake up to the urgency needed.
The author Charles Landry provided a stark picture of cities as hostile places for all of us. He said “many cities treat people like a nuisance”. They don’t allow us to walk easily around the place, to sit and meet people. He believes urban planning has been too focused on making individual, probably logical decisions that when they finally come together cause chaos.
If you have been to Manhattan or seen pictures of Times Square you may have an idea of what Landry is talking about.
Cars dominate the landscape and the pavements are not wide enough for all the workers, tourists, residents that want to be there. A study of Times Square by Jeff Risom, Associate Gehl Architects, showed that older people were avoiding the area. The city was failing older people, it was not giving them access to all the city has to offer.
Over the last couple of years, Times Square has been redesigned, providing simpler junctions for road traffic and space for people to walk and sit. These shared spaces allow everyone a better experience of the city.
The starting point of age-friendly cities may be better places for older people, but the message from this conference has been that the result of improving cities for people in later life – whether it is transport, public places or participation in services – should be a city that improves quality of life for everyone.