Climate Change and Aging Population

by Yijing Zhang

According to Adapting To Global Change: Aging, Urbanization and Resilience by Francesca Birks and Katherine Prater, the demography has shifted towards an aging population across the entire world. The authors point out that as a relatively vulnerable group, the elderly deserve more help from the society, especially more from the government. Although the vulnerability of this population may not be apparent on daily basis, it will be exposed under extreme conditions, such as natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. With the lack of medical materials and weak evacuation instructions, the vast majority of fatalities caused by Hurricane Sandy were the population over 45. When the Heatwave hit Moscow, the outcome of the forest fire was the poor air quality. Among the entire population, the elderly are the most susceptible to these consequences. Therefore, Birks and Prater suggest the importance of design solutions to address this problem.

According to Birks and Prater, providing easily accessible infrastructure in the residential areas is one solution. This should be a governmental duty. Probably, the simplest and most efficient solution would be posting clear signage in public spaces such as metro stations, because signs convey direct information to the elderly via pictures and prints. Further support could be offered to municipalities via transportation systems. Public transportation should be affordable, accessible and reliable in a crisis. They also point out that in order to respond to emergency situations, public alert information should be delivered through various means, including radio and television.

To build a resilient city, social structures and communal spaces are very important, because this might be the place where the older population spends most of their time. Larger spaces, circulation routes, mail service and amenities are indispensable elements of a good community. Particularly in megacities, the aging population can be easily overlooked. Yet, New York is an exemplary model of an age-friendly society. They cite the renovation of pedestrian streets, taxi programs specifically designed for the elderly and 59 initiatives created under the program Age Friendly NYC as examples. As for the elderly, social isolation has increasingly become a huge concern. Their participation in community activities is also one of the considerations of this journal. Locating senior housing in the central area might help senior citizens interact and communicate with people. Birks and Prater recommend such a housing model because people share common financial responsibilities. In all, the objective of these design solutions is to prepare against emergency situations while making a better living condition for the elderly.

As I read the article, I felt that the authors focused more on the problem solving part than on how exactly climate changes can significantly affect the aging population. But I appreciate the weight in the solution because it is more pragmatic.

Birks., F. and K. Prater. (2014). “Adapting to Global Change: Ageing, Urbanisation and Resilience.” Architectural Design 84: 28-35.

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