Urban design patterns to support independent living for older people

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Jan Kazak, a researcher from the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences in Poland, visited the Urban Big Data Centre on a four-week fellowship via the SASNet programme. During his time here he worked with our iMCD Household Survey and Travel Diary data on a short project to study aspects of urban design - land use, accessibility of services and facilities and neighbourhood attributes - and the relationship of these aspects to the lifestyles of elderly people.

In this blog, Jan explains the growing need for this research in the context of an ageing European population and details the unique expertise and data services that the UBDC provided.  

Consequences of our ageing societies

The UN predicts that the number of people aged 60 and over will more than double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100. Our societies are getting older, which is resulting in a growing number of European citizens who require special living conditions. Older people may stay in their homes (that is what we call ageing-in-place) or they can move into residential care. Comparing these two most popular situations, ageing-in-place can be:

  • better for a person’s mental health, if they recognize the surrounding and feel independent
  • better for a person’s physical condition, if the independent living forces them to do everyday tasks and keeps them active longer
  • cheaper, which reduces the problem of social segregation due to the economic status.

The European Commission has a strong focus on ageing society issues and has noted that the demographic transition is viewed as one of the biggest challenges facing the EU. In order to ensure a high quality of life for older people, cities need knowledge-based guidelines describing how to design age-friendly urban structures.

Research on urban design

My research project on urban design patterns for ageing-in-place is a continuation of previous studies on 'Real Estate for the Ageing Society' - which was focused on the architectural features of real estate required to accommodate the needs of the ageing society as well as defining key drivers influencing independent living of older people - and studies concerning relations between thermal comfort and ageing. My research will continue the previous studies and provide a wider perspective on incorporating the needs of older people in urban planning. The outcomes of the research should, we hope, be particularly helpful for urban planners to create more sustainable cities and communities.

The support from UBDC, within the framework of the SASNet Programme fellowship, and the access to iMCD data enabled me to start this research project.

iMCD - a unique data source

During the fellowship the research questions were extended and clarified according to the data security rules for the iMCD data, the data blending and extracting took place, literature studies were held and the first part of the research questions based on statistical analysis was verified. The UBDC supported the research with their expertise in the field of urban studies, as well as by enabling the access to the iMCD project data. The iMCD project Household Survey is very detailed and provided necessary information about living conditions, preferences about the immediate neighbourhood, feelings of safety and belonging to the community, and crucial highlights about the everyday mobility of older people in a city. The iMCD data collection provides a unique data source due to the level of complexity of the analysed issues, the detail of the answers and being able to connect it to a spatial dimension, which is very helpful in urban studies. This data provides information that is not available from using open source data collected in public statistics.

Through contact with the UBDC specialists from other fields of studies, as well as participants of the seminar organised within the fellowship programme, I discovered that the research is interesting not only for specialists in urban planning but also for scientists from the field of social sciences. After completing the work on the spatial analysis part, the research seems to be relevant for a wider group of researchers than I initially assumed, e.g. psychologists in the scope of behaviour patterns of older people or economists in the scope of well-being and quality of life.

Communicating insights from the research

The results of the research project will be published in a scientific journal, and will hopefully give interesting insights for other researchers. After publishing, it is planned to promote the results among local governments and municipalities (especially those promoting a high quality of life in cities, e.g. Cittaslow Network) to disseminate the knowledge about age-friendly patterns in urban design to promote ageing-in-place policies and to create more sustainable living conditions which improve quality of life.

Please view information about my previous research for a more in-depth understanding of the research problem that was undertaken in this project. And keep an eye out on the UBDC blog for further news on the impact of this research post-publication!

Author: Jan Kazak

Dr Jan Kazak is a Lecturer in the Department of Spatial Economy at Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences. Jan has visited the Urban Big Data Centre on a 4 week fellowship via the SASNet programme.

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