Some years ago I heard this phrase and was really excited when I heard that age friendly cities are friendly for all ages. When it comes to getting around our cities older people have a lot in common with other age groups, particularly mothers with prams and/or toddlers. For both groups doors which are heavy to open and steps are obstacles. One of the items quoted in the literature on age friendly cities is having seats in shopping centres at the right height, and for older people arms on the end we can use to haul ourselves up by. It seems common sense that since shopping centres are going through hard times they would be eager to cater for these two groups but apparently they would rather moan about lost sales than meet customers’ needs.

One of the attractions of on-line shopping is that it is done in the comfort of your own home when you want. To compete with this shopping centres need to be made attractive to customers because they provide something on-line shopping can’t do. There is no social element with on-line shopping and this is where shopping malls have the advantage. The solution would be for those who represent retailers to engage groups of older people (and mums with toddlers and strollers) to go round shopping centres and report back on what would make them more consumer friendly for these two groups of people.

Some centres provide near by parking for these groups but parking for seniors in particular seems to be abused. Since these restrictions are not enforced they don’t work. A photo of a young person parking in a senior’s parking spot published in the local newspaper would solve the problem but we are too nice to do this, even though those who do the wrong thing are not nice at all!

In Canberra for many years we have had a Ministerial Advisory Counsel on Ageing but it doesn’t seem to do much. The selection of members seems to be the problem. I was told by a member of the previous one that many of those elected to it didn’t bother to turn up for meetings and the present one has at least one youngster (well below the age of 65) on it. How insulting to our older people that we oldies aren’t as good as someone who has never experienced ageing! This is the body which should be turning us into an age friendly city but it seems to be too ineffective to achieve anything.

The other day I was sitting at a cafe near a flight of stairs, a small escalator and a lift up to the level above which was caused by the slope the site was built on. It occurred to me to wonder if any research had been done on the preferred method of moving from one level to another by shoppers of different ages. The ease of such movement determines how happy customers are to visit these centres. Most people seem to prefer escalators although the elderly find steep and fast-moving ones very off-putting. Is a nearby lift clearly visible or signposted? Stairs, which are often the most visible, are only appropriate for the more nimble! Considerations such as this and user-friendly seating are important for success with shopping centres.

What we need is to establish groups who can identify our needs and find some way of vocalising them in a way which will result in action! Why don’t retailers in shopping centres arrange this to increase shopper visits and hence increase their sales?

Audrey