#EURegionsWeek UNIVERSITY: Transforming cities into arenas for healthy ageing

Wed 9, October 2019
09:15 - 10:45 CET

All Europe is facing the same ageing population challenge. We explore how we link the needs and aspirations of increasingly diverse and unequal older people with the advantages of living in cities which are being transformed by political, environmental and socio-economic forces. This session explores four issues: How should we understand an age-friendly city?  How can business benefit from the longevity economy? How can we challenge the development industry to build better housing? How can we work effectively with older adults as co-researchers and co-designers of policy and place?

Nearly 1-in-5 Europeans is aged 65 or older while, within the older population itself, there is progressive ageing with significant increases in the 80+ group. What does this mean for policy, place makers, industry and communities themselves? This session advocates a bold new vision that challenges the master narratives of the three-stage life and worn-out responses to later life. Research with older people can illuminate the reality of ageing and lead us beyond simply adding them into an existing mix. It can lead to transformed cities that take account of an ageing population in planning for the future; that celebrate and harness the economic, cultural, civic and social roles of older adults, seeing them as capable contributors not needy consumers.

The session, involving three 15-minute presentations and an interactive discussion, will begin by unpacking our understanding of the age-friendly city, considering how cities need to embed policies to tackle socio-spatial inequalities in later life if a good old age is not to be a privilege only for the better off. It moves on to consider the many ways in which older people contribute to the European economy and, drawing on the example of the UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing, how higher education may work with business to both tap the ageing market and improve quality of life. The third contribution considers how creative forms of partnership can lead to housing designs that work for everyone rather than seek to segregate in terms of age. Drawing on work in Brussels, the final contribution considers how to develop neighbourhoods that are physically and socially supportive.

Chair: Dr Lucie Vidovicova, Masaryk University, Czech Republic introduces the session and explores the age-friendly city


  • Dr Lynne Corner, Director of Engagement, National Innovation Centre for Ageing, "A wake-up call for business"
  • Rose Gilroy, Professor of Ageing, Planning and Policy, Future Homes Alliance and Newcastle University, "Developing Future Homes"
  • Dominique Verte, Professor of Education Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, "Involving older people in urban planning"
Lynne Corner, Director of Engagement, VOICE, National Innovation Centre for Ageing and Institute for Ageing, United Kingdom.
Rose Gilroy, Professor of Ageing, Planning and Policy, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University, United Kingdom.
Dominique Verté, Educational Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium.
Lucie Vidovicova, Office for Population Studies, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Czechia.
A more socially integrated Europe
Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP), European Regional Science Association (ERSA), Regional Studies Association European Foundation
English (EN)

Session summary

Dr Lucie Vidovicova, of Masaryk University, Czech Republic began by challenging the audience to think of the age friendly place agenda as an opportunity to confront environmental ageism. She suggested that “A socially integrated Europe is one where all people are empowered to move about with safety and dignity in well maintained spaces that promote full engagement in every aspect of life”. Professor Lynne Corner Director of Engagement for the National Innovation Centre for Ageing in Newcastle deepened the discussion by setting out how older people should be included as of right in decision making about place and products. In 2007 VOICE [Valuing Our Intellectual Capital and Experience] was established by Newcastle University as a means of harnessing the immense experience and insights of the public, especially older people, to co-develop evidence based products and services that are needed to support healthy ageing and to respond to the opportunities arising from demographic change. VOICE is now an international organisation looking to mainstream its methods of engagement. She concluded that “Wherever you live in Europe the challenges we face as we grow older have striking similarities – to be able to capture the experience and insight of older people is a key asset”. Professor Rose Gilroy, Newcastle University, broadened the engagement theme through an example of the quadruple helix model in action. In Newcastle, key actors from the municipality, business leads and academics together with older people came together to imagine and then drive forward a new housing development that will provide opportunities for people to grow old in adaptable dwellings that also speak to sustainability and are informed by digital innovation. The design of the dwellings was created through co-design processes that drew in several voices previously never heard by architects such as health professionals working in the community. What valuable resources might be being wasted and how might these be tapped for the benefit of good design? She suggested that complex multi-faceted issues such as the impact of extended lives demands multi sector partnerships where new relationships of trust can nurture greater creativity. Finally, Professor Dominique Verte, Professor of Education Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, talked of new models of engaging citizens in planning their neighbourhoods. “It remains a paradox that older people tend to spend more time in their neighbourhood but are among the first to be ignored when it comes to decision-making processes and participation about those places.” The Flemish project aimed to provide an instrument to measure the living conditions and quality of life of older people and through this to promote evidence-based policy that would support age friendly communities. What was different was the commitment to continuous cooperation between local key actors, the academics, municipality and older people.  

Take away message

All European countries are facing the same ageing challenge. How do we respond to these issues, as well as recognise and exploit the opportunities that extended lives bring? The four speakers set out methodological tools for engaging with older people and ensuring that their insights are valued in creative multi sector partnerships that lead to enhanced quality of life, enriched places and economic benefits for all to enjoy.


Additional information

Perek‐Białas, J., Ruzik, A., & Vidovićová, L. (2006). Active ageing policies in the Czech Republic and Poland. International Social Science Journal, 58(190), 559-570.

De Donder, L., Buffel, T., Dury, S., De Witte, N. and Verte, D., 2013. Perceptual quality of neighbourhood design and feelings of unsafety. Ageing & Society, 33(6), pp.917-937.