Populations in our cities are changing the world today. It has two parts, the increase in population in general and the increase in the ageing population. Many urban practitioners often rush to address the needs of the rising general urban population but neglect the other side of the story, making the cities age-inclusive as well.

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Aging Population in Japanese Cities_https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/fandd/issues/2020/03/shrinkanomics-policy-lessons-from-japan-on-population-aging-schneider

Cities Now and in the Future

World organizations such as WHO, World Bank, and HelpAge have stressed that the major trend in global population is toward rising urban and aging population. It is said that more than two third of the population in the world will live in cities by 2050, while old persons will make up 16 percent of the total global population (Bordia Das, Arai and Kim, 2022). And by 2050, 8 out of every 10 old persons will be from low- and middle-income countries (HelpAge International, 2016). The trend started in high-income countries such as Japan and European countries where 30 percent of the population of Japan is already over 60 years old (World Health Organization, 2022). The growing population in cities and their aging communities is a fast-approaching global trend and in most places in the world, it is already there. It is necessary to reassess our approach to cities in this context and WHO has stressed this fact by declaring the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) and Age-Friendly Cities and Communities initiatives.

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Eight Domains of Age-Friendly Cities by WHO_By http://cfafe.org/vision/

Age-Inclusive, Age-friendly©

Making our cities age-friendly or age-inclusive is a task bestowed on many practitioners in the urban environment since it could be a cohesion of policies, digital environments, mobility, city planning, and architecture of public places among many others. By doing so, cities would be safe and optimal not only for the old population but for the whole community in a city. A ramp made to be used by an elderly person in a public place or park could also be used by a parent with a stroller or a person in a wheelchair (Bordia Das, Arai and Kim, 2022). Design for the aging population or age-inclusive design is a problem-solving, participatory, and empowering engagement (Handler, 2014) while most dedicated spaces built for elderly persons rather confuse them, in her TED talk presenting Dementia Village Yvonne van Amerongen says (TED, 2019). In an urban environment, the hurdles the aging population would face could be physical ones such as mobility and transportation, reduced vision in reading signs, and alienation in the digital environments intertwined with urban fabric. There could also be mental and social aspects such as loneliness, alienation from the current social network and phase of modern life, discrimination due to aging, and loss of dignity and privacy. These aspects are important to keep in mind for age-inclusive design strategies to go beyond the typical health and well-being aspects of the aging population.

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Age Inclusive Urban Environments_By Raychan on Unsplash

Useful Guides for Age-Inclusive Cities and Public Spaces

Alternative Age-friendly© Handbook

In the book ‘Alternative Age-friendly© Handbook For The Socially Engaged Urban Practitioner’ produced in partnership with RIBA, the University of Manchester and Manchester City Council, the UK’s first Age-friendly City, lays out a few useful factors to consider in an age-inclusive city. As the book is resourceful in many ways, it highlights architects, designers, and artists as creative urban practitioners that would contribute to the aging and the city in the conceptual landscape of age-friendliness to inspire practical interventions in the form of action verbs ‘mapping’, ‘auditing’, ‘fixing’, ‘borrowing’, and ‘collaborating’. Where participant-led mapping helps to identify obscure connections, community-led auditing provides a thorough ground-level assessment of a specific area through surveys, mental mapping, and modeling. These activities help generate a narrative true to the aging population as well as the activity is empowering and engaging too. Fixing the obstructive environment by modifications to urban environments, fixtures, and public facilities is essential for age-inclusive cities. Borrowing explains the idea of temporary urban interventions, appropriation, or lending out spaces to carry out other uses related to age inclusivity and could open up to concepts like retrofitting, modifying, or adapting. Collaborating, co-designing and participatory practices are approaches that blur the boundaries of user and designer in creating spaces (Handler, 2014). These broad topics are useful in accessing the ground level of age inclusivity in cities and public spaces.

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A Senior Playground in a City_By https://www.tolymp.de/en/senior-playground/

Age-Inclusive Public Space

‘Age-Inclusive Public Space’ is a resourceful book by Dominique Hauderowicz and Kristian Ly Serena (2020), from the multidisciplinary architectural studio ‘dominique + serena’. As the new public space often neglects the elderly citizen and tends to excessively present the young and middle-aged, the book provides a take on theoretical and practical knowledge in designing public spaces for all ages. The book is an interaction with 19 practitioners in the urban setting such as architects, geographers, psychologists, philosophers, and social scientists, each with a perspective on designing, using, and transforming public space into age-inclusive space (Devlieger and Dujardin, 2021). The book states that age-segregated spaces are rather limiting in nature. Hence, design practices mentioned in, ‘Polyvalance’, ‘Atmosphere’, ‘Reminiscence’, and ‘Urban Wilderness’ pave the way to more elastic spaces for all people. They explain the user-centric design approach, multi-sensorial design, ideas that capture spatial and cultural questions, metaphorical relationships and abstractions of the space, and design and un-design of space to occupy vacant public space (Devlieger and Dujardin, 2021).

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Age-Inclusive Public Space Book By Dominique Hauderowicz and Kristian Ly Serena_ https://dominiqueserena.dk/Age-Inclusive-Public-Space

Shaping Ageing Cities

The report by Arup, Help Age International, Intel, and Systematica (2015), titled ‘Shaping Ageing Cities’, focuses on 10 European cities that were already facing the challenges of urbanization and ageing populations. The report could be useful in the methodology by which a city could be observed, researched, or studied in ageing and how the complexities of geography, processes, and relations could be revealed. Also, in the last chapter, the report expresses ideas for shaping the ageing city which comprises aspects of society, built environment, mobility, and digital environment. In a societal change, age discrimination could be addressed with strong communities or architects could produce built environments that enable accessibility, proximity, diversity, safe and secure public places, and affordable and adaptable housing. Mobility aspects in age inclusion consist of improving walkability, improved public transportation, and integrated planning among others. Also, the digital environment could be accessible to ageing population to stay healthy, stay connected and stay working.

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Age Friendly Public Transport_ https://www.vermontagedcare.com.au/getting-around-transport-and-mobility-for-elderly-people/


Inclusive design in architecture has momentum in the diverse cultures of modern cities. Age-inclusivity is at the heart of it as many cities around the world will experience a significant portion of elders in their population if they are not experiencing it yet. Cities will have to adapt to these changing needs with inclusivity and, more importantly, age-inclusive design practices. As the veteran designer, author and professor Don Norman says, problems arising by getting older offer a context for better design for elderly users, and the best design would also be adapted by everyone (NNgroup, 2021).

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Design for Elderly, Design for All_By John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash


Arup, Help Age International, Intel and Systematica (2015). Shaping Ageing Cities . Bordia Das, M., Arai, Y. and Kim, Y. (2022). Building Age-Ready Cities. [online] World Bank. Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/opinion/2022/06/13/building-age-ready-cities [Accessed 5 Jan. 2024].

Devlieger, P. and Dujardin, M. (2021). Book Review: Age-Inclusive Public Space. Anthropology & Aging, 42(1), pp.173–176. doi:https://doi.org/10.5195/aa.2021.347.

Dominique Hauderowicz and Kristian Ly Serena (2020). Age-inclusive Public Space. Editorial: Berlin: Hatje Cantz.

Handler, S. (2014). This Alternative Age-friendly Handbook. The University of Manchester Library.

HelpAge International (2016). Ageing and the city: Making Urban Spaces Work for Older People Ageing and the city: Making Urban Spaces Work for Older People . [online] HelpAge International. Available at: https://www.helpage.org/silo/files/ageing-and-the-city-making-urban-spaces-work-for-older-people.pdf [Accessed 5 Jan. 2024].

NNgroup (2021). Design for the Elderly. [online] www.youtube.com. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uP6IbeggAeo&ab_channel=NNgroup [Accessed 5 Jan. 2024].

TED (2019). The ‘Dementia Village’ That’s Redefining Elder Care | Yvonne Van Amerongen. [online] www.youtube.com. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSZhrxOkBZI&ab_channel=TED.

World Health Organization (2022). Ageing and Health. [online] World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ageing-and-health.


Chamindu Piyathilake is an architect from Sri Lanka who is passionate about creating meaningful spaces and experiences through architecture. With a focus on practical expertise in BIM and digitalization strategies, he strives to bring innovation to creative design and the industry.