A look at the urban design preferences of older adults from Germany, groups which are often underrepresented in urban planning participatory processes

For the attention of: Municipalities with less than 100,000 inhabitants, urban planners, transport planners, public health authorities, administrative law authorities

The problem: Some people are more affected by the built environment than others, e.g. frail older adults, pedestrians, or people with low socioeconomic position. A lack of representation of these groups in attempts at age-friendly development creates a risk of increasing environmental health inequalities. Public Health interests need to bring in their expertise on this issue into planning policy and processes. However, knowledge on cross-cutting topics is often scarce, especially in small and medium-sized municipalities.

What we did and why: We conducted a survey of 1,836 older adults aged 65 years and older, in cities and municipalities with under 100,000 inhabitants in northwest Germany. Participants were asked to rate the importance of a range of 21, frequently found, urban design features. We analysed the results to find out which specific characteristics are most important for older adults; also whether there are differences depending on individual or contextual aspects. This is crucial to inform stakeholders about age-friendly design of the built environment.

What our study adds: We found that:

  • Crime safety was most often rated as very important, although data indicates that older adults are the group least affected by crime.
  • The greatest difference in design preferences was observed for women, people with low education, the oldest old and actively mobile people; highlighting the importance of considering a diversity of needs in urban planning.
  • Increasing preference for some design features such as lighting, crossings, separated cycle and footpath and places for all generations increased with the increasing population size (and we assume urban complexity) of a town.

Implications for city policy and practice:

  • Urban planning needs to make more of opportunities to involve older adults and their views, especially women, people with low education and actively mobile people, in order to prevent environmental health inequalities.
  • Public health authorities can use our results to assist them in making statements in urban planning procedures to promote age-friendly development.
  • Cooperation of different stakeholders is recommended to assess concerns and fears of the residents to help increase perceived safety.

Links to other resources and support: For more information see material about the AFOOT project

Full research article: Social determinants of older adults’ urban design preference: a cross-sectional study

Authors: Tanja Brüchert, Sabine Baumgart & Gabriele Bolte. Editor: Marcus Grant (@MarcusxGrant)