Age-Appropriate neighbourhoods? Overcome competition and test new forms of cooperation!

Jonas Scholze

By Jonas Scholze, on June 15th, 2017

> Read Jonas Scholze's articles

In Europe, we are facing demographic change and the pleasing prospect of rising life expectancy. But as a consequence, the share of elderly people with a need of care will increase in the next two decades. According to Eurostat data, the share of people aged 65 and over is set to increase to approximately 29% by 2050 (it is currently 19%). At the same time however, the number of friends and relatives who constitute the informal care sector is decreasing, due to a shrinking birth rate. Finding answers on how to assure demographic resilience and affordable living conditions for elderly people consequently becomes one of the core challenges for European cities in the close future.

Shaping demographically resilient neighbourhoods

The high demand of age-appropriate dwellings cannot merely be answered by institutionalised care facilities. It neither matches with the wishes of elderly to stay as long as possible independently in their own homes and familiar environment, nor is it financially capable.

Age-1In order to find solutions, the focus on age-appropriate living must consequently be widened from a single building perspective and the built environment towards comprehensive, integrated neighbourhood concepts. This also includes aspects of conceptual design of local strategies, mobility, ambulant care, supply of food and daily services or adequate social information for elderly and their relatives for advice on care services. Furthermore, nearby community spaces within walking distance of social and cultural activities constitute basic elements for elderly people to avoid isolation. To implement these concepts, new forms of cooperation between municipalities, the housing sector, the care and health economy and the involvement of voluntary civil commitment have to be established. The aim is to create synergies, merge knowledge and save costs.

There are several examples of cooperation models that could work among these groups. However, many rest on a particular project or are still in a pilot phase. In order to match the future needs of age-appropriate living spaces, these concepts need to be set on a wide base.

Municipalities: Creating a strategic frame – Activation of neighbourhoods

For these matters, the establishment of modular urban development concepts is vital. Municipalities play an important role: As a neutral moderator, they can activate and gather the most important local stakeholders to start a conceptual neighbourhood development process. The objective is to merge local knowledge on needs and gaps in existing services. Like this, concepts can be tailor-made, according to the needs of local residents and to local resources.

An interesting example to facilitate integrated communication approaches comes from the City of Cuxhaven in North Germany. For the planning and development phase of the city quarter Cuxhaven-Lehfeld, the Municipality built a 3D model of the currently existing neighbourhood. The model was used throughout the participation and discussion sessions with stakeholders and residents. This approach was very helpful as the residents could demonstrate much more clearly which particular public spaces needed change and refurbishment.

The housing sector as important player for neighbourhood concepts

Age-2Although the primary task for the housing sector is to provide living space, more and more housing companies provide additional services for the elderly in order to keep reliable tenants, avoid vacancies and improve the image of the company. A proved example from Germany is the so-called “Bielefelder Modell”. This project example stands out for its focus on the residential care area, which includes a 24-hour service. A ‘service point’ in one of the housing blocks serves everyone with care needs who lives in the housing project or the surrounding area. While the housing association BGW (Bielefelder Gesellschaft für Wohnen und Immobiliendinstleistungen mbH) focuses on its core business, professional providers bring in health and care services. They were also involved during the new buildings’ planning and construction process. However, the most important point is affordability. In Bielefeld the tenants do not need to pay a compulsory charge for basic services, as the system is not legally bound under the term “assisted living”.  Hence, tenants who live in the housing stock of the BWG from the surrounding neighborhood can book minimum, tailor-made care services – tailormade and individually.

Involvement of the voluntary sector

Age-3The professional involvement of volunteers from civil society enhances the variety of services and minimises costs. Without this group, the implementation of many strategies would not be feasible financially. Housing associations, municipalities or care services however must actively search for these voluntary citizens and provide adequate assistance and information for them right from the beginning.

One example is the “Infothek” for elderly people in Berlin. The housing association GESOBAU AG provides free premises. The “Infothek” is run by volunteers who provide information for the elderly about care services, leisure time proposals, administration and access to small repair services in the neighbourhood.

Find small and modular solutions – overcome old patterns of competition

Sometimes it is the small, easy, and transferable practices that work best to provide a demographically resilient neighbourhood. It is not always necessary to establish expensive and institutionalised concepts in order to provide adequate care for elderly. Many feasible solutions can only be achieved by using the right cooperation model with local stakeholders, so that some patterns of competition for care and services have to be overcome. With elderly people facing an increasing risk of poverty, affordability is of upmost importance. Changing pension systems, or ageing generations with a higher share of low income employers or gaps in the CV, calls for affordable concepts. Synergetic local modals help answer this need.

By Jonas Scholze, German Association for Housing, Urban and Spatial Development, National URBACT Point for Germany and Austria

Have a look at an URBACT Network on this topic: URBACT has supported several networks dedicated to certain topics of age-appropriate living. The project Active-A.G.E. focused on demographic ageing and economy and the impact on care systems.The project Building Healthy Communities built a transnational exchange programme for transfer of policy, planning and practice on urban health policies.Healthy Ageing  is a project that worked on tools to promote healthy ageing and age-friendly environments in cities.

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