Accommodating old age in modern buildings and urban development

Construction of high rise buildings continues in various urban centres of Tanzania. The question is are they friendly to the elderly members of the society in terms of access and provision of a healthy lifestyle? PHOTO | FILE

Summary

  • According to the UN, by 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older had outnumbered children younger than 5 years. By 2050, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050 and 80 percent of them will be living in low- and middle-income countries.

On 14 December 1990, the United Nations General Assembly (by resolution 45/106) designated 1 October the International Day of Older Persons.

According to the UN, by 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older had outnumbered children younger than 5 years. By 2050, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050 and 80 percent of them will be living in low- and middle-income countries.

The composition of the world population has changed dramatically in recent decades. Between 1950 and 2010, life expectancy worldwide rose from 46 to 68 years. Globally, there were 703 million persons aged 65 or over in 2019.

Population ageing (just as is urbanisation) is poised to become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society, including labour and financial markets, the demand for goods and services, such as housing, transportation and social protection, as well as family structures and inter-generational ties.

Thus we have an urbanizing world as well as an aging world. Unfortunately, the needs and requirements of older persons, are hardly considered.

As we are developing and constructing modern houses it is important to be aware that we too are aging and/or are looking after the elderly. In many houses in urban areas, it is common to find there-in a lone old person who has been forced to leave his/her rural setting to come and live with relatives since the support that used to exist in rural areas is no longer there.

These people are left on their own indoors, with nobody to talk to for days on end. They hate the television that is put before them.

They look back with nostalgia at the good life back in the rural areas, which they cannot practically go back to. Given the demands of modern life, the relatives usually leave home early and come home late tired and have no time to talk to their elderly population. They would be happy to till some land and produce something for the family; yet our planning believes in concrete jungles.

The older people suffer from a many of ailments a good number of them related to wear and tear and poor health coming with age. Stiff joints for example make squatting toilets are a torture for the elder populations. These could be designed in such a way that they are comfortable for the older people to use.

Stairs are another challenge for the older populations. Houses could be designed in such a way that, as one grows older, one lives on ground floors.

The same idea applies to blocks of flats without lifts. Old people would find it very difficult to walk up the stairs. The use of the wheel chair in old age must be accommodated in our buildings.

In designing land uses, we need to note that old people badly need to get out of those prisons called houses, to walk about and enjoy fresh air, and if they so feel have somewhere to sit and ruminate or talk to others; to till the soil and plant or tend a flower. This points to the importance of open spaces, which are safe, and well looked after.

Our concepts that open spaces are children’s play grounds is reflective of the fact that we do not take into considerations the needs of the poor.

Old people too need open spaces, playgrounds and well-kept gardens provided with seats where they can sit and enjoy nature. Old people too need places where they can exercise, such as walking or jogging without fearing for their safety.

The situation of old people living in slums and informal areas, many of which are crowded with buildings and have little or no open spaces and have poor sanitation, must be terrible indeed. Slum upgrading programmes should consider including interests of the elderly living in such areas.

Time has come for the professions related to property design and land use planning to consider the increasing number of old people in society’s midst and provide for them. Ageing is a natural process. It should not be a curse for the older populations.

When celebrating the UN International Day of the Older Persons, on October 1, why not deliberate on how the old persons can comfortably be accommodated in our houses, and in our housing neighbourhoods, as well as making them useful members of society?