In 2007 the World Health Organization released its report Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide, in which it details specific criteria for Outdoor Spaces and buildings. Both of these are vital as our environment has a direct effect on our well-being, both mental and physical. A stroll in the park or a comfortable bench may not seem like much, but it can easily brighten up an otherwise dreary day. Considering the recent social upheaval, a peaceful state of mind is more important than ever. In this article, we will look at cities both at home and abroad for the best examples of age-friendly Outdoor Spaces and Buildings.

We begin with outdoor spaces in Singapore, a city-state of 5.7 million people in Southeast Asia. Its nickname of the “Garden City” is well deserved. The island city recently earned a space on National Geographics “Green Urban Landscape City” list due to its progressive environmental outlook. 

Cheong Koon Hean of Singapore’s Housing and Development Board spoke to National Geographic on how the city was able to transform itself after years of negligence. “Through an incentive program, we replace greenery lost on the ground from development with greenery in the sky through high-rise terraces and gardens. This adds another layer of space for recreation and gathering. In Marina Bay, all developments comply with a 100 percent greenery replacement policy.”

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As you can see from the photo above, the Marina Bay contains as much greenery as it does pavement. The city’s incentive program pays for 50% of the installation cost to create vertical or rooftop green spaces. By subsidizing the cost for these unique gardens, the city is able to maintain a pleasant and clean Marina Bay while still encouraging business development. Additionally, the increased number of plants helps passively cool the city sub-tropical city and provide better air quality. 

This initiative, among others, has propelled Singapore to the third-ranked nation for longevity with an average life expectancy of 83.1 years. We will revisit Singapore in future articles do see what else they are doing to better serve their elder community.

Closer to home Oregon is rapidly creating a name for itself both locally and internationally. Portland is one of the new leaders in open space renovation, adding more seating areas around parks, cleaner signage, and age-appropriate exercise stations. The city was awarded the Certificate of Membership in the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities back in 2011, signaling Portland’s continued commitment to creating a better environment for its aging population. Included in these steps are:

  • Creating more parks and green spaces
  • Developing community gardens spaces
  • Requiring building signage and addresses to be visible to those vision-impaired

In a meeting held by the AARP last December, Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett spoke on the growing population of citizens over the age of 65 and the challenges it raises. “The general feeling of inclusion, safety, accessibility to groceries – things like that are the kinds of things that folks are concerned about, and that we will be looking at as part of our planning process.” Salem, Oregon has created several initiatives for outdoor public places like parks. They are conducting “walking audits” of parks to ensure that seniors can comfortably enjoy parks. The city is also designing age-friendly spaces to sit and appropriate outdoor exercise stations.

Not to be outdone, Portland shares many of the same goals. While closed due to COVID-19, the Portland Art Museum is a good case study in a facility designed to serve its community. Among its accommodations are elevators, wheelchair ramps, free manual wheelchair usage, docent-guided tours, and “Sensing Art” for the vision-impaired. Furthermore, they have many virtual museum tours that can be enjoyed from home. The Mt. Saint Helens walk through is especially good, complete with commentary by experts in their respective fields, which can be found here

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The museum also has a Green Policy guiding its waste management. It places a strong emphasis on the reduction of water and energy consumption, waste minimization, and recycling of all resources. 

And right here in Central Oregon, the city of Bend is creating “pop up” neighborhood Greenway Routes. The project’s goal is to renovate current walkways and bike trails to be more inviting than the busier streets. These Greenways offer a slower, more comfortable alternative while encouraging residents to enjoy the outdoors at their own pace. Pavement markers and future signage will help guide people to their destinations while showing them the nearest parks and local businesses. The 6 miles of new paths will connect residential areas to 22 miles of trails, and 13 parks all while allowing people to maintain the recommended 6 feet of social distance.

An aging population introduces new hurdles to every city. Caring for our elders is an on-going and persistent need, regardless of geographical location. Safer outdoor areas and buildings are a crucial step in creating an environment comfortable for the entire populace.

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