Geographies of Age. Older people’s access to housing and to urban life

The ultimate goal of the comparative project is to propose options and requirements for the public policy of the cities as well as actors on the housing market to support and enhance age-friendly urban environments.

The project locates itself within the vision of age-friendly or ageing-friendly cities. It has social, spatial and economic implications.

In the context of an ageing population, growing life expectancy and with it a larger share of very old persons, questions of access to housing, services and public spaces present growing challenges to many cities. The vision of age-friendly cities and ageing in place (allowing older person to stay as long as desired and possible in their familiar home environment) is facilitated by processes of digitalisation, individualisation of life-styles, urban regeneration, new housing arrangements, a variety of services and so forth. At the same time, it is partly the same factors such as urban growth and regeneration, limited availability of appropriate housing, physical and social barriers in terms of access to public spaces and services, mobility of families and changing family patterns that contribute to reducing the quality of life of older and very old persons. These potentially increase isolation and loneliness in that life period.

Considering the actual demographic development, the share of older people in our countries will increase considerably in the next 20 to 30 years. Given these developments, policies for healthy ageing and ageing in place will become more important. Our cities and societies as a whole will face a multitude of challenges: The incidence of chronic and age-related conditions such as dementia will increase considerably. Yet, with the restructuring of retirement provision systems, migration, changes in the labour market, the average wealth of future older generations is likely to decrease considerably. For healthy ageing, the participation in urban life and meaningful activities is fundamental. Particularly, if ageing in one’s own living environment is to be supported for psychological, social and economic reasons, appropriate housing options and public urban spaces are needed, which offer a variety of barrier-free, attractive and no/low-cost indoor and outdoor opportunities for social interactions.

Ongoing processes of urban regeneration, migration, and the trend for families and higher earners to live in city centres are leading to low vacancy rates and a decrease in affordable housing in growing cities like Stockholm, Vienna and Zurich. Access to the tight housing market is considerably facilitated by financial resources, informal networks and the usage of internet and new communication technologies. Especially older people often have a reduced income after retirement, and they sometimes face difficulties handling digital devices or keeping up with the speed of the housing market. The search for suitable accommodation or home financing (mortgages) becomes very difficult. Furthermore, in many locations and facilities, barrier free access for less mobile older (and younger) people is not available.

Against this background, the Centre for the Future of Places (CFP) at KTH Stockholm,
ETH Centre for Research on Architecture, Society and the Built Environment (ETH CASE) in Zurich and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space at TU Wien are carrying out a joint research project.

Comparing the metropolitan areas/ cities of Stockholm, Vienna and Zurich seems very useful because of their similarities as well as the differences. All are located in ageing societies, they are hubs of economic and urban as well as social developments. They are growing metropolitan areas with concomitant pressures on the housing market, and with a commitment to strengthening urban qualities and the quality of life in cities. Yet there are also differences, particularly in the housing market and access to housing, home ownership, barriers and access to public spaces and so forth. It is both the commonalities and the differences that make the proposed comparison meaningful and interesting, as implications of the findings for public policies and other interventions may have a greater impact. The ultimate goal of the comparative project is to propose options and requirements for the public policy of the cities as well as actors on the housing market to support and enhance age-friendly urban

ETH Wohnforum – ETH CASE , Zürich 
Centre for the Future of Places, KTH Stockholm