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The Intersection of Tech and Aging: How Digital Tools are Enhancing Urban Planning for Older Adults

Urban planning is a critical process that shapes the built environment of our cities and communities. As cities continue to grow and change, it is essential to engage all members of society, including older adults, in the planning process. Older adults bring a unique perspective to urban planning, as they have a wealth of experience and knowledge about the history and evolution of their communities. They know what has worked in the past, what hasn’t and crucially what they need to live an independent life where they can grow old with grace and dignity. The older demographic is the fastest growing segment of society therefore to create successful cities which work for all planners need to take their needs and preferences into account.


One way to do so is to use digital tools. A commonly held viewpoint is that older adults are averse to anything digital/online but as URBANAGE has found that is far from reality. Simple digital tools such as online surveys and consultation sites, can help to overcome barriers to participation and increase access to the planning process. For example, older adults who may have mobility issues or difficulty attending in-person meetings can participate in online surveys and provide feedback on proposed changes to their communities.


>>> Read findings about older adult engagement from URBANAGE co-creation workshops.


Digital Twins for Accessibility and Transparency

In recent years more advanced tools including digital twins (virtual city replicas, often in 3D) can also allow older adults to better visualise proposed changes to their neighbourhoods and provide valuable input on the location and accessibility of amenities and services, such as public transportation and healthcare facilities, and in the case of the Flanders Region, useful information about the environment. The Flanders Green Comfort index not only provides useful information about seating and shade etc. at accurate points on streets, it also allows citizens to upload and share details they believe will be useful to others. As more information is added to the platform, its usefulness grows exponentially.


>>> Learn more about Flanders Green Comfort Index.


Digital Apps for Personalised, Citizen Driven Services

The same tools can then be used to create valuable new services to benefit older adults, such as personalised route planners which create routes based upon your needs, e.g. avoiding stairs, choosing bus stops with shade and seating, nearby conveniences etc. The city of Santander is creating such an app to help older residents and visitors better navigate its undulating and cobbled streets.


>>> Learn more about Santander’s personalised route planner


Digital Tools for Amplified Communication and Engagement

Digital tools can also help to make urban planning more transparent and accessible. By using online platforms to share information and engage with the community, urban planners can create a more inclusive planning process that considers the needs and preferences of all residents, including older adults. Additionally, digital tools can help to create more accurate and up-to-date data on the needs and preferences of older adults, which can inform decision-making and lead to more effective planning outcomes. The city of Helsinki is creating a travel-time matrix which will inform planners of inequality and inequity for older people compared to other citizen groups between different places in the city and help to ensure their needs are considered when improving neighbourhoods.


>>> Learn more about Helsinki’s travel-time matrix.


Conclusion

Whilst digital tools can help overcome barriers to participation and increase access to the planning process, they are not a panacea. To truly drive inclusive and effective outcomes, planners and policy makers need to invest in building relations with their older communities to unlock trust and create effective two-way consultation. Digital tools need to augment human contact, not replace it fully, but embraced correctly can lead to productive, satisfying results for all.


Join us at URBANAGE as we seek to leverage the power of digital to co-create age-friendly cities and communities. Subscribe for updates at www.urbanage.eu


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