From pedestrianisation to public toilets, how planning Corks urban area with the elderly in mind comes to benefit the lives of young adults.

UCC planning master’s student Declan Foley tells Motley what Cork city needs to get right

One of the greatest megatrends we are to witness during this century is that of an ageing society. For the first in recorded history, we are set to enter a period where the number of individuals living north of sixty is greater than those south of five, with the implications of such a demographic change impacting all areas of society. These effects will especially be felt in services and infrastructure throughout urban centres such as the real capital, Cork.

 

In turn, planners are faced with the stark reality that we must plan for an ageing society. Rebuilding urban centres such as Cork around the needs of their ageing populations takes many forms, but two aspects are crucial. One; ensuring as much autonomy and independence for elderly people through planning measures, and two; creating safer urban spaces for those afflicted with cognitive difficulties in old age. What is seldom said is that the measures used to achieve such goals have the unintended effect of benefitting the lives of young adults and our student population immensely. We in turn should do our utmost to back them. 

An issue constantly highlighted in Cork City is the lack of public toilet facilities. It just so happens one of the key tenets of planning for an ageing society is to make sure such adequate services of such a nature are available to make the area more attractive and accessible to older people. Surveys have even shown that almost half of the British population over 60 curb outdoor trips and activity due to the lack of such services inhibiting their freedoms. We are now painfully aware as Ireland reopens after lockdown how badly these facilities are needed. Socialising outdoors this summer for young people is also hampered significantly by the same lack of these facilities. This is a quintessential example of how by planning our urban centres with the elderly in mind, we will in turn drastically benefit the young also. 

Several other benefits to younger people that are derived from elder specific planning policy include those that come from pedestrianisation. The benefits of urban pedestrianisation for younger people are wide-ranging. Studies have even proved that pedestrianisation improves the mental health of young residents and one such study in Mexico has even linked urban pedestrianisation to lessoned crime in such an area. Increases in security and safety in several ways are assured with the spread of pedestrianisation within an area. Another significant social benefit of widespread pedestrianisation is they create more chances for social interaction and relations developing for young people within such an area. As outlined simply and in essence perfectly in Nikhil Soni’s Benefits of pedestrianization and warrants to pedestrianize an area (2016) “pedestrianized streets encourage face-to-face social interactions and communication that are necessary to the enthusiasm and excitement of urban life”. 

The lack of cars within urban centres due to pedestrianisation (in turn due to planning our urban centres around our ageing population) encourage other planning policies that are of benefit to the young/student population. They enable outdoor dining on a level simply not practical when streets are not pedestrianised and in particular, they enable urban areas to become much more cyclist-friendly (something that would be of major benefit to the student population in Cork – think of the businesses on Princes Street benefitting from this). 

If you are a young student reader of this piece (or even one of our elder readers) , take a few seconds out of your day and think about what planning measures would benefit students and student life within urban areas. I guarantee you will find that the measures that come to mind, in turn, will be derived and directly linked to those of which we would implement to make the same more accessible to our elder citizens. 

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