Over the coming years world populations will age rapidly. Ensuring enabling and supportive environments is a key global priority in planning for population aging. A pressing requirement is the provision of age-friendly infrastructure. An Australian study has found the task is large and local governments lack sufficient funds. Many shortfalls and inequities exist.
This issue of Planning Theory and Practice features a research article by Dr Elizabeth O'Brien: Planning for population aging: Ensuring enabling and supportive physical-social environments -- Local infrastructure challenges. Her study of 20 councils in New South Wales found that the need for age-friendly infrastructure is often not met. Low priority is accorded due to the inadequacy of resources and the extent and standard of infrastructure differs across local government areas. Councils have differing abilities to respond to population aging. "The city/country divide is replicated," as challenges seem to be greater overall for rural, regional and fringe councils compared to metropolitan.
The research shows that timely provision of age-friendly infrastructure is critical. The development of age-friendly infrastructure would enable older community members to get out and about and to use local facilities, providing safety, accessibility and mobility. In turn autonomy, physical activity and social connection are created which improves quality of life, allowing for health and well-being to improve.
However, the lack of funds prevents this and councils are unable to make improvements to ensure the safety and accessibility of pedestrian infrastructure and community facilities (e.g. libraries, community centres and swimming pools). Also, councils in popular tourist locations lack the capacity to meet the increasing infrastructure needs of older tourists ("grey nomads"). Of particular concern is the shortfall in accommodation for the delivery of local support services.
The study findings have global implications for the field of planning. An important goal for governments is to contribute to the independence and social engagement of older people. The role of planning is to ensure these needs are met, but adequate responses will only be possible if resources increase.
- Elizabeth O'Brien. Planning for population ageing: Ensuring enabling and supportive physical-social environments – Local infrastructure challenges. Planning Theory & Practice, 2014; 15 (2): 220 DOI: 10.1080/14649357.2014.902986
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