Building age-friendly cities

By 2050, for the first time in history, there will be more people in the world over age 65 than under age 14. The Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF) in Toronto has partnered with Philips in the Netherlands, to release a new report on Cities and Aging. This policy snapshot outlines strategies for addressing the needs of our aging urban population, and shows how internationally standardized indicators of “age-friendly cities” can be used to benchmark and predict scenarios for better-informed decision-making. The report, and GCIF’s ongoing research, will inform and guide city leaders on how to better confront the challenges associated with an aging population.

Globally, people over the age of 65 will increase by 183 percent by 2050. In parts of Africa, the increase is a startling 366 percent. At the same time, urbanization has become a defining phenomenon of the 21st century, and it is projected that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Given these two critical population shifts, this rapidly aging world signifies rapidly aging cities.

Municipal policy decisions are becoming increasingly vital to the state of the world’s aging population — and their success will have far-reaching effects on the global economy. “Our Cities and Aging Report develops a framework for what we term Age Friendly City Policy, Planning and Design,” said Patricia McCarney, director of the GCIF and the Global Cities Institute, a new research center at the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.

The growing number of people over 65 has vast implications for how we design and plan our cities: consideration must be given to the availability of health services and care facilities, residential and street design must incorporate mobility needs, and thought must go into community access to commercial services and technology. “Urban design models that integrate seniors into walkable, mixed-use areas are the hallmarks of a healthy city,” said Professor McCarney.

But of course municipalities aren’t the only levels of government whose policies play a role in the health and well-being of aging citizens. In many countries, for example, provincial or state governments are responsible for healthcare, while pensions and immigration are administered at the national level. “Policy and funding silos can frustrate real solutions,” said Professor McCarney. “A national strategy that funnels resources into cities to address issues associated with their aging populations is fundamental in moving forward if sustainable prosperity nationally and globally is our goal.”

According to Global Cities Institute Senior Fellow, Dr. Gora Mboup, who leads the Global Urban Observatory at UN Habitat in Nairobi, “The global urban agenda is just coming to terms with this aging phenomenon. The new GCIF-Philips Report is timely and insightful and positions cities and aging as a core component of the global agenda.” As the population ages, the ratio of the retired population to the working-age population will increase — meaning there will be fewer people in the workforce able to support non-working people such as the elderly and children. With cities now responsible for more than 70 percent of global GDP, failing to account for an increasing number of senior citizens living in cities will have a negative impact on a nation’s path to sustainable prosperity.

Launched in 2009, GCIF developed standardized metrics to ensure sound global comparison across cities, making globally comparative research, learning, and exchange possible. GCIF work allows cities to accurately compare data, differentiate performance and share knowledge on best practices across a variety issues. The facility now hosts a network of over 250 participating cities across 80 countries.

The policy snapshot on Cities and Aging is the second in a series of policy reports that GCIF will release on urban issues in the coming years. Forthcoming reports will address mobility and sustainable infrastructure.


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