Health and well-being are determined not only by our genes and personal characteristics but also by the physical and social environments in which we live our lives. Environments play an important role in determining our physical and mental capacity across a person’s life course and into older age and also how well we adjust to the loss of function and other forms of adversity that we may experience at different stages of life, and in particular in later years. Both older people and the environments in which they live are diverse, dynamic and changing. In interaction with each other, they hold incredible potential for enabling or constraining Healthy Ageing.
Cities are considered major urban centres which have the economic and social resources to make changes to become more age-friendly and can thus lead the way for other communities within their countries. In the developed world, three-quarters of older persons live in cities. Making cities age-friendly is one of the most effective policy approaches for responding to demographic ageing. Indeed, “In an age-friendly community, policies, services and structures related to the physical and social environment are designed to support and enable older people to “age actively” – that is, to live in security, enjoy good health and continue to participate fully in society. Public and commercial settings and services are made accessible to accommodate varying levels of ability.”
Age-friendly environments got framed to a large extend by the publication in 2007 of the World Health Organisation’s global guide for age-friendly cities. In the Age-friendly Environments in Europe handbook, urban planning is mentioned several times as a necessary co-creation process to design physical environments with older adults.
Typical measures towards age-friendly environments from urban planning are nowadays focused on active ageing and with this objective, the planned measures are directed to promoting mobility within cities (walkability, use of public transport, accessibility), safety and security. Aligned with this approach the UNECE and the European Commission launched the Active Ageing Index that measures the level to which older people live independent lives, participate in paid employment and social activities, and their capacity to age actively. There are also other initiatives that intend to measure the age-friendliness of the urban environment like the Age-friendly Urban Index (AFUI), a perception-based measure of safety, access to services, and walkability, used to measure urban environment quality.
The URBANAGE project aims at providing a long-term sustainable framework for data-driven decision-making in the field of urban planning for age-friendly cities. URBANAGE will develop and validate a decision-support Ecosystem that integrates urban digital twins, big data analytics, predictive algorithms profiting from artificial intelligence, and gamification for enhanced engagement purposes. Based on a thorough understanding of users’ needs, it will be validated by piloting use-cases in the context of three local planning systems in Europe (Helsinki in Finland, Santander, in Spain and the Flanders region, in Belgium). These technologies will support the analysis, modelling and simulation of physical conditions for ageing well in cities: accessibility and safety in all areas of the physical environment, including public spaces, streets, public transport and housing, as well as the location of public equipment and services or the access to community services.
In alignment with the WHO guide on age-friendly cities, the above conditions have been identified as among those that enable older adults to participate in all the dimensions of the city and to have a full role in the community.
For this purpose, the URBANAGE multidisciplinary consortium, which includes partners with expertise in urban planning, age-friendly environments, co-creation and governance, disruptive technology development, integration and deployment, as well as stakeholders and users (public servants and older citizens), will work together for three years. The collaboration will enable public authorities to develop pathways for the introduction of disruptive technologies in urban planning for age-friendly cities, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the services offered, while also addressing the societal challenges raised by such technologies.
Planning for age-friendly cities will benefit from the creation of an age-friendliness index for neighbourhoods which, through a combination of different data sources analysis, will assess, with an integral approach, the readiness of an urban area to ensure an active and healthy living for the older population. Based on this index, and with inputs from historical data URBANAGE Planning Support System will allow for the creation and evaluation of different scenarios and alternatives for making long-term planning decisions geared at improving an area´s age-friendliness index.