In a bid to create environments that cater to the diverse needs of an aging population, Nordic countries are striving to build age-friendly cities. Experts from Estonia, Norway, and Sweden shed light on the concept and its significance.
We have summarized some highlights from the latest news from the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Estonia.
Understanding age-friendly cities: A holistic approach
An age-friendly city is characterized as a space where individuals of all ages can live, work, and attain self-fulfillment, according to Sirle Salmistu, an urban planner and Senior Researcher at the School of Engineering of the TalTech Tartu College in the news. While the focus is often on those aged 65 and above, the concept encompasses the entire lifecycle, emphasizing the importance of inclusivity.
The key components of age-friendly communities involve creating accessible and supportive urban spaces, fostering social interaction, and providing necessary services. The goal is to enable older individuals to live independently for as long as possible and actively participate in their local communities.
Nordic initiatives: A model for age-friendly city living
Norway has been actively pursuing the creation of age-friendly environments at the national level, with 216 local authorities joining the Age-Friendly Community Network by late 2023. This initiative is part of the national reform titled 'Community and Independence – Live Safely at Home.'
Cities and communities are at the forefront of this development, collaborating with volunteers, local businesses, and organizations. The projects focus on housing, transportation solutions, outdoor areas, and activities that promote the well-being of older citizens.
Sweden's exemplary cities: Uppsala and Gothenburg
Uppsala and Gothenburg in Sweden stand out as examples of age-friendly cities. These cities joined the WHO Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities (AFCC) to officially embrace the age-friendly designation. The decision to join was driven by a recognition of their aging populations and a commitment to urban planning that enhances the independence and activity of elderly residents.
Uppsala is implementing a step-by-step action plan to enhance age-friendliness. Collaborating with local stakeholders, the city has created a summer area, organized inclusive walking runs, and facilitated elderly lunches in local schools, aiming to make Uppsala more welcoming for all age groups, according to Kenny Jansson, Coordinator of Uppsala’s Age-friendly Environment.
Gothenburg's age-friendly action plan encompasses 16 focus areas, including mobility, housing, social inclusion, and community support. Notably, 'Chatty-benches' have been introduced in strategic locations to encourage social interaction among citizens, according to Emma Matsson, Developing Manager for Age-friendly Gothenburg.
Intergenerational connections and innovations
In Norway, the 'Generation Games' initiative has successfully bridged the gap between different age groups. This playful intergenerational event aims to bring children, adults, and older individuals together, fostering physical activity and breaking down stereotypes about age-related abilities.
Anne Berit Rafoss, Project Manager at the Centre for an Age-Friendly Norway, highlights the importance of involving older people in such initiatives, emphasizing the need for intergenerational activities that facilitate the exchange of knowledge and skills.
Designing age-friendly urban spaces: A call for empathy and inclusivity
Creating age-friendly urban spaces requires a conscious application of universal design principles, considering the needs of all age groups and abilities. Public spaces should be envisioned as areas accessible to everyone, emphasizing the importance of co-creation with older individuals.
Sirle Salmistu emphasizes the necessity of thinking about the lifespan and maintenance of spaces, avoiding later adjustments that may hinder accessibility. Studies suggest that successful age-friendliness is rooted in co-creation, a practice that, unfortunately, is still underutilized in some regions.
As the Nordic countries lead the way in prioritizing age-friendly urban planning, their initiatives serve as a model for others aiming to create inclusive, supportive communities for people of all ages.