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Growing Older in Cities

OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) examines best practices from urban areas around the globe

By 2050, a full 25 percent of the world's population will be age 65 or older, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The group's 204 page report "Ageing in Cities," which was released in April 2015, lays out best practices and lessons learned to help cities prepare for this demographic shift.

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The purpose of the OECD, an international economic organization with 34 member countries, is to "promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world." To that end, "Ageing in Cities" focuses on the challenges and opportunities that older populations present for cities. The report also identifies policy priorities according to where cities are in the context of this worldwide aging trend. 

Nine case studies provide snapshots of cities at different stages of dealing with aging populations. The profiled cities represent three stages:

Type I cities have a large percentage of older people and slow population growth

  • Toyama, Japan
  • Yokohama, Japan
  • Lisbon, Portugal

Type II cities have a rapidly aging population but young people still account for the majority of the citizenry

  • Calgary, Canada
  • Brno, Czech Republic

Type III cities have relatively younger populations, so have more time until being greatly impacted by the aging trend. Still, the report notes, "Type III cities would do well to focus on older people's well-being and their capacity to lead autonomous and active lives."

  • Cologne, Germany
  • Manchester, United Kingdom
  • Helsinki, Finland
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

See pages 57 to 59 of the report for a discussion of Type I, II and III cities.

When selecting cities for the case studies, the OECD chose urban areas that consider aging an important policy priority and are open to learning from other cities. (For example, Philadelphia, which is the fifth largest city in the United States, has joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities and developed initiatives to improve housing and walkability.) Each case study details the city's background, demographic development, economic trends, policy practices, challenges and opportunities related to aging.

Key Points

  • The number of older people is increasing faster in metropolitan areas than in non-metropolitan areas.
  • In urban areas, the older population is growing faster than the overall population.
  • Aging cities present both challenges (e.g., public spending for health and social services will increase) and opportunities (new innovation and technologies will be fostered to retain the autonomy of older people). See page 42 of the full report for a complete table of challenges and opportunities.
  • Policies should focus on improving quality of life and well-being for all residents, not just older residents.

Six critical governmental strategies for addressing the challenges of aging:

  1. Develop a long-term vision that considers demographic changes over time
  2. Develop indicators
  3. Promote health for people of all ages
  4. Increase older adults' engagement in work and social activities
  5. Provide affordable housing in accessible environments
  6. Redesign urban areas to increase attractiveness and well-being

See page 68 of the report for a discussion of the six recommended strategies.

Collaboration among a variety of stakeholders, including local residents, research institutions and private sector companies, is essential to meet the challenges and opportunities of an aging society.  

How To Use

The report is divided into two parts and offers policy makers useful references, tools for sustainable urban development and a wealth of data on global aging trends.

Part I discusses the report's methodology, trends in aging societies, policy strategies and governance. The report provides a framework of challenges and opportunities for cities and suggests policy priorities according to the city's demographic stage. "Countries at the forefront of the ageing trend," the report notes, "can provide valuable lessons for the countries that will follow in the same path."

Part II of the report provides an analysis of the nine case study cities. (See page 118 of the report for a table that lists the aging-specific policies from each case study city.)

Report published: April 2015 | Summary by Jessica Ludwig

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