Ageing is more than a health issue

A view of George Street Sydney showing pedestrians walking across the mall created by the light rail system. Ageing is not just a health issue.
Picture by Ashleigh Hughes

Guidelines, toolkits and policy frameworks related to population ageing have been around for a while. But are they being used? Ageing is more than a health issue – it’s an urban planning issue as well. COVID-19 has made this very apparent. A case study based on Greater Sydney highlights the issues. 

The authors discuss an “ageing city” in the first part of the article where they focus on Australian data on ageing and dementia. The second part of the article provides more information on what is working well and what needs to change. The article uses data, state and city policies to assess how well Greater Sydney is doing as a city for older people. 

Key themes

Sydney has many blue and green spaces that are great for mental and physical health. However, these are inequitably distributed across eastern and western parts of the city. Access to shops and services likewise. 

Active and social places are for the most part good for everyone. Quiet places are important too especially for people with dementia. Feeling safe is related to how active an older person is in their community. The more they get out and about the less worried they are about crime. 

The researchers report on interviews with health and planning professionals, and provide several first hand quotes. 

Key themes from the interviews included: the need for intergenerational spaces, considering mobility and distance between key services, and better access to gardens. Familiar landscapes and architectural landmarks provide a sense of security along with quiet ‘slow spaces’. Ageing and dementia could get lost when nested under policy words such as “liveability” and “universal design”.

Many things are possible and easy to do if planning and health professionals work together. That seems to be the way to go. 

The last part of the article discusses the many toolkits, guidelines and policy frameworks for age-friendly cities. They range from international policies through to the work of the Greater Sydney Commission. The article concludes with recommendations.

The title of the article is, Age-friendly urban design and mental health in Sydney, Australia: a city case study. It is published in the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health Edition 7: Aging City. There are other articles on the same topic in this edition. 

Authors are, Safia Moore, Associate at Arup, and Georgia Vitale, Practice Leader at Grimshaw.