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Sustainable living in age-friendly cities for Malaysia

September, 2010


Ageing populations and urbanisation are two global trends that are shaping the 21st century. Our cities are growing and the share of people over 60 years old is increasing rapidly. This has serious implications to urban and economic planning.

Recognising that older people are a resource for their families, communities and economies in supportive and enabling living environments for a country, the World Health Organisation (WHO) regards active ageing as a lifelong process shaped by several factors that, alone and acting together, favour the promotion of healthy lifestyles and urban security for older adults.

Why age-friendly cities?
An age-friendly city encourages active ageing by optimising opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance the quality of life as people age. In practical terms, an age-friendly city adapts its structures and services to be accessible to and inclusive of older people with varying needs and capacities. It also means a city that is friendly to disabled, children and families. Effectively, an age-friendly city is a people-friendly city.

Eight aspects of an age-friendly city
There are eight aspects in a comprehensive picture of the city’s age-friendliness, as recommended by WHO (Source: Global Age-friendly City: A Guide, published by World Health Organisation (WHO) 2007). These aspects had been identified in research studies and surveys with older people on the characteristics of elderly-friendly communities.

These eight aspects cover the features of the city’s structures, environment, services and policies that reflect the determinants of active ageing and they are aspects of city life that overlap and interact with each other.

Source: Global Age-friendly City: A Guide, published by World Health Organisation (WHO) 2007

Respect and social inclusion are reflected in the accessibility of the buildings and spaces and in the range of opportunities that the city offers to older people for social participation, entertainment or employment. Social participation, in turn, influences social inclusion, as well as access to information. Housing affects the need for community support services, while social, civic and economic participation partly depend on the accessibility and safety of outdoor spaces and public buildings.

Transportation and communication and information particularly interact with the other areas. Without transportation or adequate means of obtaining information to allow people to meet and connect, other urban facilities and services that could support active ageing are simply inaccessible.

For Malaysia
If Malaysia wants to be a developed nation that accommodates an ageing society in the next 10 to 20 years, there is a need to be in sync with the converging trends of rapid growth of the aged population and urbanisation. Age-friendly cities are required in this country as quickly as possible. This can be achieved by learning and improving successful models used in other cities that are now enjoying the economic and lifestyle advantages of being age-friendly.

Building an age-friendly city is not an overnight project but a long-term mission, starting with a clear vision based on today’s informed society. Steps must be taken now to ensure future success.

Malaysia can leverage the “active ageing” concept defined by WHO as a model to guide the development of age-friendly cities. The following are key areas of concern identified by older people and those who serve older people in different areas of urban living:

  • outdoor spaces and buildings
  • transportation
  • housing
  • social participation
  • respect and social inclusion
  • civic participation and employment
  • communication and information
  • community support
  • health services

To achieve sustainable living in age-friendly cities in Malaysia, we require a platform for key stakeholders to initiate the facilitation and advocacy process for government agencies, business entities and communities.

A series of education sessions, survey studies and forums on ‘Sustainable Living In An Age-Friendly City” will serve as the communication channel and platform to educate the public and for important stakeholders to dialogue on the subject matter.

Towards an age-friendly city for Greater Kuala Lumpur (KL)
In line with the Government Transformation Programme, potential stakeholders including international and local industry experts, academicians, advocators, business community, medical centres and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), need to work in collaboration towards promoting national guidelines and policies on age-friendly cities for Malaysians.

This also ties in with the Greater KL Vision 2020; turning the fusion of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Selayang, Ampang Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Subang Jaya, Shah Alam, Klang, Kajang and Sepang into a vibrant economic hub sustained by a people-friendly metropolis. Such an initiative will also achieve the National Economic Model (NEM) objectives of ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘sustainability’ to improve people’s quality of life, including older persons.

If you would like to collaborate with Carol Yip to build sustainable age-friendly cities in Malaysia, e-mail carolyip@aboutmoneytalk.com

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