Later this week I am going to a talk about age friendly cities. To me this should mean cities which are friendly to people of all ages but they are always about being ‘old age’ friendly! As usual the presenter is a young woman which means I will react as usual by wondering what she knows about living in a city as an older person. She will have read quite a bit about it but the chances are the books she will have read will have been written by other younger people. Most of them don’t even think of discussing the issue with real older people!
If we look back at how cities were created, with people living in rural communities moving to where jobs were in cities, which hadn’t themselves adjusted to suddenly increasing populations, it seems obvious to me that cities are a problem for everyone. Perhaps the exception are younger people who love being crowded together with the chance of mass entertainment which goes with it.
I maintain that cities are alien to most humans. We, or our ancestors, moved from being surrounded by country life and scenery to masses of concrete. We are beginning to realise how unhealthy this is by a move to create inner city gardens, particularly vegetable gardens, and vertical gardens to cover the masses of concrete. We are beginning to realise that humans need that connection with nature.
Even apart from that the needs of older people in cities are often little different from that of most other residents. We may be slower and less mobile but parents with young children have similar needs, particularly when it comes to transport and steps. Accommodation can be a problem for older people but then if we look at the homeless they cover all age groups. Similarly with the need for communities for people to belong to. Sickness and access to treatment is also a multi-age problem.
We could do a lot more to make cities friendly for all ages, including older people. My own personal wish is to get rid of the awful ‘concrete’ atmosphere. I accept that building homes and office blocks on a small space need high rise concrete but lets try to disguise it. I’ve already mentioned vertical gardens but let’s also make sure apartment and office blocks have their concrete faces broken up by balconies, and encourage people to use them for plants. The owner of one such home in Sydney has flowers and vegetables (potatoes!) growing on her balcony. It breaks up the concrete façade and brings nature back to the city.
I wonder if I’ll manage to keep quiet in the talk I’m going to? After all, she is being flown out here from Canada on a scholarship to tell us about her expertise. I wonder if she’ll have a different view when she is old herself!