Ageing in the City: Can Metropolises Contribute to Better Senior Living?

Today, we live longer and healthier lives than ever before. In 2017, 962 million people was aged 60 years or over, and this number is expected to more than double by 2050 and to more than triple by 2100. Additionally, more than half of the world’s population already lives in cities and it is forecast that the percentage of urban residents in the global population will increase to around 70% by 2050. These two mega-trends combined, rapid urbanization and population ageing, will bring some of the most important challenges and social transformations of the 21st century.

Are our cities well designed to provide well-being for people of all ages? How can local managers improve quality of life and services for all, including older populations? Can city leaders support and enhance social cohesion and inclusion for everyone?

As shown in our recently published book, Cities and Social Cohesion: Designing more inclusive urban areas, fostering social inclusion in large and highly diversified metropolises can be a complex task. In the case of ageing societies, as populations gets older, cities face numerous challenges in different areas, including health and social care, outdoor spaces, infrastructure, transport, housing, and social and civic participation. However, by putting citizens at the center of all policymaking and adapting cities to create more accessible and inclusive places for all, we can create urban areas that are good not only for senior citizens, but also for all-age city dwellers.

The role of cities

Transforming cities to become all-age-friendly places can take a long time. However, many city managers around the world are already taking positive steps and finding new ways to create more age-friendly and inclusive urban areas for all.

For instance, in order to mitigate social isolation of older citizens, the city of Barcelona launched in 2014 the Vincles project, an app-based platform designed to strengthen and expand the social ties of elderly people in the city, reduce loneliness and improve quality of life with the help of new technologies.

In the area of mobility, a program in Singapore, the Green Man + initiative, aims at helping seniors and pedestrians with disabilities to have extra time to cross the road. By tapping a special card on a reader placed at traffic lights, the system will give them extra time to cross the road.

To encourage participation of older people in society, the City Council of Pozuelo de Alarcón, a municipality in the Community of Madrid in Spain, launched in 2016 the “Cuidamos Pozuelo” program. This initiative is based on a network of senior volunteers that observe the city’s environment, identify urban problems (such as sidewalks or road signs that need to be repaired) and reports them to the City Council so that the administration can improve public urban spaces. The project improves city environment, while actively promoting participation of the ageing population, resulting in a win-win scenario.

Lastly, in order to promote physical activity of ageing populations, many cities around the world have been developing outdoor gym facilities and playgrounds for senior citizens or creating programs to foster active and healthy living in old ages. For instance, the Japanese city of Yokohama, created the “Yokohama Walking Point Program”, a program designed to encourage senior residents to walk by using a system of rewards with the opportunity to win prizes. The final aim is to keep them fit and healthy.

Morning gymnastics in the park

As the global population ages and cities continue to grow, cities will need to adapt, transform and redesign infrastructure and services to create more accessible and all-age socially inclusive urban areas. The need of age-friendly urban design and services is critical.

How the city treats its elderly tells a lot about its character. Quality of life for older people will depend significantly on their ability to participate in urban life, and no city can ignore these issues.

Has your city launched any initiative or program aimed at improving senior living? Let us know in the comments!

About Ana Isabel Duch

Ana Isabel Duch is a research collaborator at IESE Business School. She holds a master’s degree in International Relations from the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals (IBEI) and a bachelor’s in Business Management and Administration from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF). Before joining IESE, she worked on research and consultancy projects related to socio-economic development and international trade at the European Commission (DG Trade), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) and at ACCIÓ Berlin (Government of Catalonia). Her areas of research interest include sustainable development, global and local governance and international political economy.

About Pascual Berrone

Pascual Berrone (BA, B.Sc., Ph.D.) is associate professor of strategic management and holder of the Schneider Electric Sustainability and Business Strategy Chair at IESE Business School. He is a multi-award-winning researcher whose work on sustainable innovation, corporate governance, CSR and Smart Cities has been published in over a dozen international journals. Among his awards, it is worth mentioned the IBM Faculty Award, which recognizes Berrone’s work in researching and teaching strategies for cities and urban development. Professor Berrone is associate editor of the research journal Organization & Environment and founder of the “Strategic Madrid Group,” an initiative that gathers world-class scholars and practitioners to focus on strategic issues. He is also the academic co-director of the research platform IESE Cities in Motion and academic director of the International Center for Competitiveness (ICC) at IESE.

About Joan Enric Ricart

Joan E. Ricart, Fellow of the SMS and EURAM, is the Carl Schrøder Professor of Strategic Management and Chairman of the Strategic Management Department at the IESE Business School, University of Navarra. In this school he has been Director of the Doctoral Program (1995-2006), Associate Dean for Research (2001-2006), and Associate Director for Faculty and Research (2006-2014). He is also Vice-president of the Iberoamerican Academy of Management. He was the Founding president of the European Academy of Management (EURAM) and President of the Strategic Management Society (SMS). He was the academic director of the EIASM and member of the research committee of the EFMD. Joan E. Ricart holds a Ph.D in Managerial Economics, Northwestern University; Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya; and Ph.D. in Economics and Business Administration, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He has published several books and articles in leading journals. He is Director of the Center for Globalization and Strategy, co-academic director of IESE Cities in Motion and academic director of the UN center of excellence of PPP for Cities. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Future of Urban Development and Service Initiative of the World Economic Forum. His current work focuses on cities, business models, and general management.

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