With many countries in the world facing a growing number of elderly, cities such as Dijon in Eastern France are trying to improve the lives of their retired citizens.  According to this article from the Guardian Weekly:

“As studies have shown, movement is a key factor in ageing well and isolation should be avoided at all costs. ‘A little activity does a huge amount to slow ageing,’ says Christiane Gindre, a pensioner and member of the Age Observatory in Dijon. This city in eastern France is working to ensure that planners and other public services make full allowance for such factors.”

While cities like Dijon have tried to cope with more retiree by laying on more services: meals, clubs, home-helps and specialist amenities, some advocates of the elderly argue that this is not enough. Dijon city council’s senior policy manager, Pierre-Olivier Lefebvre, states that recent retirees may want the services, but they also want to maintain normal, active lives, they want to use public transport, to shop at the market and carry on operating “as conventional residents”. So in Dijon there are still many benches in public spaces for the elderly to rest on and even public armchairs! Further:

“In the town centre, much of the road surface is even. Work in preparation for the new tram lines, launched in 2012, provided an opportunity to remove a lot of steps. Stops have raised platforms for level access to trams, making it easier for disabled people and those with pushchairs to use them. Another important feature is public toilet provision in the city. Lastly, a free mini-bus service criss-crosses the city centre.”

There is research being conducted upon the best way to plan cities and amenities with an elderly population in mind. One study fitted seniors with a GPS tracking device(!) and found out that they generally operated within a 300-500m radius.  Thus, according to Pierre-Marie Chapon, a researcher and WHO adviser “If amenities are located in their vicinity, they’ll go out every day, but much less if there are no shops.”

Not surprisingly, cultural activities are popular with the aged, so in Dijon a lift has been installed in the theatre, the museum has been redesigned and there are morning starts for some performing shows. 

One interesting point is that women tend to get more involved in the subsidised activities such as cooking, driving and swimming. Men are much less likely to get “out there” when they retire:

“’We would like to attract more men,’ says Alain Pelletier, another member of the Age Observatory. ‘When they stop work, they don’t see themselves doing anything else.’”

Thus the challenge of adjusting to an ageing population is one that involves a myriad of different strands and problems: mobility, public spaces, town planning, services etc etc The whole point of the initiatives in Dijon is to help the lives of aged residents and by doing so, to help the community as a whole. As the aged cohort increases throughout Dijon and other cities throughout the world, this objective will grow in importance and solutions to the problem of a changing demographic will have to found. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...