An increasing share of the population live in cities and their surroundings. With the ageing of the population, adapting our urban environments to support the social inclusion and participation of older people will be a major challenge in the years to come. We attended the Brussels Urban Summit 2023 to share AGE work as part of the EU-funded URBANAGE project.
By 2050, the United Nations estimates that two-thirds of the planet’s inhabitants will live in urban areas, making them key areas to face today’s and tomorrow’s global challenges. 2600 politicians, academics and civil society representatives from 600 cities around the world, including more than 160 mayors, participated to the Brussels Urban Summit looking for urban answers to global challenges. For the first time ever, the three largest city networks came together to discuss major societal challenges and formulate urban solutions.
Our changing urban environments require policies to protect rights in old age
These expected trends and scenarios will change the way we live, work, play, socialise and experience our urban environments throughout our lives and into older age. In urban areas, the lack of accessible and safe services, such as public transportation, green spaces, digital devices may increase marginalization and exclusion in older age. In order to protect the human rights of citizens across all age groups, national governments and local authorities need to implement inclusive legislation and comprehensive policies codesigned with citizens. Participatory mechanisms that actively involve older citizens should guarantee meaningful participation in the local and global community.
AGE is part of a consortium involving 12 partners from 6 European countries called URBANAGE, a European project (funded by the Horizon 2020 program) focused on helping urban planners and policy makers harness the power of new technologies for more inclusive, evidence-based decisions, involving older people as co-urban designers. As part of this project, we went to the Brussels Urban Summit to find out how policy makers plan to address these issues and if the rights of older people were in the political agenda.
The main take-aways of the summit
The plenary sessions touched upon important topics such as “tackling inequalities and rebuilding the social contract in cities” and “Migration and Diversity: Cities lead the way in turning challenges into opportunities”. There were also a significant number of parallel sessions tackling the need for climate action and addressing the European Green Deal.
We attended two sessions dealing with:
- “The Power of Care: How supporting Caregivers can change our cities”: the session discussed the essential role of caregivers for building resilient and fair cities (read AGE position on care here) and presented good practices from Morocco, Colombia, Uruguay, Mexico and UK . The issue of gender equality was central as this invisible, undervalued and unpaid or underpaid work is mostly carried out by women. “Caregivers put their life on hold for others, having no time for themselves and this needs to change” claimed Diana Rodríguez Franco, part of the local government of Bogota, when presenting the “Manzanas del Cuidado”. This public initiative in Bogota is creating “care blocks” in the community bringing free services to caregivers to allow them time for self-care and education.
- “How to increase human-rights in your city”: the session gathered important networks like Human Rights Cities Network and ALDA – European Association for Local Democracy. It discussed how to cocreate an interactive community that protects human rights of all ages and how to implement, monitor and improve human rights in public policies. A good practice came from the city of York, the UK’s First Human Rights City (learn more about their journey here).
Recommendations on the way forward
We left the summit with new inspiring good practices around the globe and some good discussions. However, there is no doubt that a lot is still to be done regarding ensuring older people’s rights in the urban area. There is a general lack of awareness of the implications and opportunities of the demographic change and the need to engage more than 500 million people aged 65 and over that live in cities around the world.
To meet the challenges ahead, mayors need to deepen the concept of Age-friendly environments and:
- Adopt a life-course and participatory approach in the urban planning decision-making process, including all the different age groups to meet the different needs and preferences of individuals at all stages of their lives (check the guidelines for citizen engagement developed within the project URBANAGE here).
- Create more inclusive, green, and enjoyable shared urban spaces that encourage social activity and healthy lifestyles.
- Provide easier access to services and opportunities for all, ensuring older people are included in the digital transformation.
- Integrate disruptive technologies to support public decision-making and services provided in urban planning for age-friendly environments.
- Invest in caring neighbourhoods and communities.
- Encourage active ageing, enabling older adults to contribute to the workforce and local economy.
The URBANAGE project is striving to find ways to make cities more age-friendly and inclusive to help the rapidly growing older adult demographic in Europe age gracefully. One of the ways this is being achieved is through the development of the URBANAGE Ecosystem platform, which brings together data and services to support age-friendly urban planning and design (know more here).
Promoting older people’s health, participation and security, ultimately enhancing quality of life as people age is one of the ways to create sustainable cities. As highlighted in Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in her opening speech:
“People who care deeply about their communities, people who want the place where they live to be sustainable also for the generations to come (…) their ideas and contributions can make our planet a better place”.
For more information on Urbanage:
Visit the website of the project: www.urbanage.eu | and its Twitter account: @UrbanageH2020