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What is an all-age-friendly city?

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Dr. Rinat Ben-Noon explains why we should work for the development, planning and construction of living environments that are suitable for all ages.

Dr. Ben-Noon is a social planner and a researcher in the field of civil society.

Illustrations: Anat Peleg

The term “Ageism” was coined by Dr. Robert N. Butler, a gerontologist and psychiatrist, against the background of a stormy debate over urban planning. In the 1960s, the residents of an affluent suburb of Washington, DC, protested a public housing project for the older poor. In an article in The Washington Post titled “Age and race fears seen in housing opposition,” Butler used the term for the first time. He wrote: “People talk about aging gracefully, which is what they want to do of course. So, naturally, they don’t want to look at people who may be palsied, can’t eat well... who may sit on the curb and clutter up the neighborhood with canes.”

Ageist behavior is like covert racism. It appears to us “natural” and “normal,” and so we do not aspire to change it. One of the manifestations of Ageism, especially in public systems, is the exclusion of older people from the public agenda, the struggle over budgets and public resources, and their non-inclusion among the main target populations for public “products” – like the street, for example.

The dramatic increase in the number of older people is clearly visible in public places: city streets, commercial centers, and cultural centers. Even a glance at sport facilities reveals that older adults (over age 60) constitute a sizable proportion of those who use or just frequent public areas. Despite the numbers, the planning authorities, like other government authorities with responsibility for planning, development and allocation of resources, still fail to integrate older people in a manner consistent with their growing proportion of the general population. In fact, they do not have the knowledge for identifying the special needs of the aging process, for the purpose of incorporating them in all work plans.

Examples of ageism in the planning systems can be seen, first of all, in the lack of attention, or scant attention, to the needs of older people. Until now, development and building plans were intended by and large to “attract a young population.” Housing programs focus on the young family – parents and children – and most of allocated public land is earmarked for the education system and leisure-time needs of children, youth and young adults. Another example is the transportation system, in which highways, streets and public transportation are planned for the needs of users who are part of the work force. Public parks mostly contain playground equipment for young children; and even parks with exercise equipment exclude older people, because they are designed for adults after work hours when there is no need to provide shade.

Furthermore, rehabilitation facilities, day centers, and public housing for older people are consigned to the margins of city planning, to remote towns, or far from the city center. Old people are not part of the natural target population when it comes to planning new or renewal projects: they are situated in isolated locations. Some municipalities take a blatantly ageist approach, refusing to initiate the establishment of necessary health and rehabilitation facilities for their older residents, or reduce such projects to the bottom of their priority list.

The solution to this problem has to be in regulatory protocols and guidelines, in the language of planning and development. The Ministry of Construction and Housing is currently working on a planning manual for the needs of older residents. It will include guidelines for the planning and development of living environments for older people, and the elements necessary to integrate them with planning at every level, from regional masterplans to individual building plans. In this way, the needs of older people will be included as a matter of course in every municipal plan intended for all residents, and not only when the plan is designed specifically for older people.

Here's an example: The manual recognizes that after 25 years of an apartment housing a family with children, it will continue to house an aging family for 30 years more. It therefore includes design elements appropriate for old age, such as wider doorways and no multiple levels, in all new housing built in the State of Israel.

Plans for city roads need to consider older drivers and pedestrians alike, and the allocation of land needs to include a variety of innovative services for the benefit of the elderly. Similarly, planning guidelines, protocols and allocation of resources for older people can be created in other systems as part of national and local government plans.


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