What does an All-Age-Friendly city look like?

Date: 01/10/2014

Lego housing, digital dogs and on-demand buses, new report explores what an ‘All-Age-Friendly’ city could look like and finds it within our grasp.

The ‘Towards the All-Age-Friendly City’ report released today on International Day of Older People, explores how to create and maintain socially cohesive cities that suit the needs of citizens of all ages. The report draws its findings from research and a series of workshops.

The report finds that inter-generational trust, built through frequent encounters and better-designed housing and transport is key to an all-age-friendly city. The report depicts possible ideas for improving cities, from digital aids for encouraging accidental encounters between generations, to sentiment mapping and modular housing for intergenerational relationships. It explores how shared service hubs could bring generations together, as well as skill-based currencies and digital platforms that could enable a shift from generations co-habiting in public space to true sharing.

‘Towards The All-Age City’ is a collaboration between Future Cities Catapult and researchers from the University of Bristol. The team from Bristol led the workshops and produced the report in collaboration with the Catapult, as well as with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Connected Communities Programme. It draws on input from an expert group including the BBC, Bristol City Council, Academic and Professional specialists in gerontology and childcare, as well as The Royal Institute of British Architects and Pervasive Media Studios.

The report looks at the intersection between the World Health Organisation's work on age-friendly cities and UNICEF's work on child-friendly cities. It aims to spot potential conflicts in the design and use of cities by older and younger citizens, as well as understand where these groups of citizens have the same needs and so can use cities in new collaborative ways.

The report highlights a number of case studies from around the world where cities are already implementing all-age-friendly city solutions, and suggests how these might be added to and scaled.

Peter Madden, Chief Executive of the Future Cities Catapult, said:

If a city works well for very old and very young people, it is likely to be a city that works for everyone. An all-age-friendly city is one where every voice is heard: where all citizens no matter their age are involved in the planning process, understand how their city works, and feel safe, mobile and actively involved in their city. The report ‘Towards The All–Age-Friendly City’ has highlighted the need for better inter-generational trust and encounters, more imaginative approaches to housing and targeted adaptations to public transport, and suggests ways in which we might do this. The challenge now is to turn words into action and consider and involve citizens of all ages in the design and operation of our cities.

Professor Keri Facer and Dr Helen Manchester, co-directors of the project, said:

The All-Age Friendly City is an achievable dream. What we need now is for engineers, architects, planners and policy makers to engage a much wider range of age groups in the design and development of our future cities. Re-imagining ‘Smart Cities’ not as technological fantasies, but as liveable cities for everyone whatever their age, is an urgent technical, political and economic challenge

To reach its recommendations, the report explores potential future scenarios for our cities, good and bad, as a tool for reimagining systems and processes in order to guide current planning:

  • The Living City – A city where the concepts of work and play have been entirely reimagined. Building design mimics nature and bolt-on living space blossoms and recedes as needed. A lottery system appoints city representatives, responsible for the voices of nature as well as people. Car-free streets are repurposed for play and play becomes the modus operandi for education for all ages. Most citizens work a 20-hour week and a living wage is ubiquitous.
  • The New Venice – It's 2070 and the city is now largely underwater. Adaptive architecture lifts dwellings out of the reach of unpredictable tides and carbon positive boats transport people and goods below. An embodied communications network warns of an impending illness before an elderly gentleman even feels unwell and a medical barge is dispatched automatically. Old skills find new value, elders are lauded for their skills in fishing and urban farming. National government has been replaced by local fiefdoms with common land, the water is treasured public space and reciprocity is the preferred currency.
  • The Trusting City – Residential dwellings, services, commercial property and industrial buildings are spread evenly across the city in a patchwork of high density, mixed use ‘villages’. Face recognition identifies citizens triggering personalized services; a wheelchair ramp activates or an alcohol advert disappears. Sentiment mapping allows the city to sense the mood of citizens, anxiety triggers a brightening of street lamps or increased police presence. Lego-inspired housing allows homes to grow and shrink as families grow up and age.

These scenarios are explored further in the full report, which you can download from the Future Cities website.

Notes to Editors

  • For all media enquiries please contact: Lucy Warin 07702 678 509, lwarin@futurecities.catapult.org.uk
  • The Future Cities Catapult is a global centre of excellence on urban innovation, a place where cities, businesses and universities develop together the solutions cities need for a strong economy, resilient environment and an improved quality of life. One of seven Catapult centres established by Innovate UK, it focuses on the challenge of urban integration: helping cities take a more joined-up approach to the way they plan and operate. Its central London Innovation Centre and Cities Lab provide cutting-edge facilities for cross-disciplinary innovation.
  • For more information, please visit www.futurecities.catapult.org.uk.
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