25th september 2014
Illawarra – an age-friendly community.
My recent blog proposed that the four Councils comprising the Illawarra should work together to create Australia’s 1st Age-friendly Region. I saw the opportunity in the juncture of two significant events: the ‘Illawarra’ now defined by the State Government and a visit to the region by past World Health Organization (WHO) director, Dr Alexandre Kalache.
IRT and Edmiston Jones jointly sponsored Dr Kalache on an interstate speaking tour promoting active aging and lifelong learning in the context of age friendly communities. At his instigation, WHO published checklists for age-friendly outdoor spaces and buildings, housing and transport with recommendations to create physical environments that support active ageing.
Many age-friendly features are legislated and are reasonably obvious. For example, outdoor spaces and public buildings need to eliminate trip hazards and there are detailed requirements for specific gradients providing pedestrian access. The challenge is to provide balance with stimulating environments that encourage mental and physical activity. There is a need to balance convenience and amenity with interest, vitality and stimulation.
My elderly father lives in a retirement village in Kiama. He values being able to walk down the street safely and easily to see his doctor and shop. He also enjoys being able to walk up the road to admire the antics at the skate park and even welcomes skaters sharing the footpath. It is stimulation and interaction with the broader community, not just with people from the retirement village that is important.
Decisions regarding urban infrastructure are more often driven by commercial opportunity and have little to do with public amenity. Benches are located at intersections, millimetres from passing traffic, as the primary purpose is to promote the advertising emblazoned on the back of the seat. Places to rest should be weather protected secure public areas, at strategic distances apart, encouraging opportunistic gatherings where people of all ages can have those important incidental conversations that enrich our lives.