Few cities were designed to be age-friendly, but many throughout the world are trying to become age-friendly, with varying amounts of success.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has drawn up a checklist of age-friendly city features including maintenance of well-lit, safe and attractive public areas, non-slip pavements, accessible buildings, affordable public transport, suitable housing and opportunities for social participation.
WHO says age-friendly environments are free from physical and social barriers and supported by policies, systems, services, products and technologies that promote health and build and maintain physical and mental capacity across the life course and enable people to continue to do the things they value as they age.
The City of Melville joined the WHO global network of age-friendly cities and communities in 2007 as one of the pilot cities of the project. Since then, it has developed the four major priorities of community transport and health services, transportation, housing and communication and information in ways that resonate with seniors.
Director community development, Christine Young says the city’s age-friendly policy was drawn up following extensive consultation with residents and community groups from diverse backgrounds.
“We target hard-to-contact groups, such as the large Chinese community, to involve as many people as possible,” she said.
From these residents the city established a community reference group to advise the council.
Key achievements include Melville’s Fit for Life campaign to support people over 55 to exercise and maintain their health and independence. The city also subsidises gym membership; the fees decrease the older the member, to reduce the drop out of older people as they age.
“Seven thousand seniors regularly attend city fitness classes,” says Ms Young. “And more than 1500 attended free outdoor classes called Fitness in the Park.”
An unusual innovation is a weekly quiet hour at Melville Plaza shopping centre. This provides a low-sensory shopping experience for people living with dementia or autism. During quiet hour, unnecessary lights, in-centre music, including Coles Radio and PA announcements are banned except in emergencies.
Register and scanner noise is reduced to the lowest level possible and no trolleys are collected. Extra staff are also rostered on to support customers and free fruit is on offer.
“Melville has the second largest number of people living with dementia who still live at home. We support local businesses to improve accessibility and help them train retail staff to become age and dementia friendly.
“Other shopping centres have expressed interest in following suite.”
For people living with dementia and their carers Melville has instituted monthly memory cafés.
“There are 15 to 20 memory cafés. It is the place people go to when first diagnosed with dementia. It helps them remain socially engaged and feel they are still part of the world,” she said.
Melville also supports ‘ageing in place’ initiatives and works to raise older people’s awareness about housing choices and affordable housing options. A Housing Decisions Toolkit for Older People has also been designed.
Other innovations include bin pull. Truck drivers fetch out rubbish bins for elderly and disabled residents.
The city library stocks large print books, runs digital literacy classes and delivers books to homes on request.
The city partners with transport providers to deliver transport information and solutions and identifies the specific transport gaps and requirements of older people. It designs and maintains pedestrian infrastructure to improve walkability.
“Evaluating what we have achieved is part of the age-friendly city model. Melville has received overwhelmingly positive responses from local government surveys, she said.
Becoming age friendly must come with some cost to ratepayers.
“The cost of becoming age-friendly involves a whole range of services. It has involved no extra staff but just ways of working differently, training and marketing.”
Ms Young says Melville wants older people to feel that they matter, belong and have affordable opportunities to live life well. It works to combat social isolation and promotes access information about bereavement, death and dying.
Melville residents come from a wide range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds and the city’s age-friendly policies are designed to help everyone participate fully in the community.
“Making the city age friendly makes it friendly for everyone,” said Ms Young.