Aiming to address two global mega-trends – aging populations and urbanization – the World Health Organization released its guide to assessing and improving the “aging friendliness” of urban communities in 2005. Put generally, WHO contends that an age-friendly city will encourage active aging by adapting its structures and services to include older people with varying needs; the goal is high quality of life for all community members as they age.
The guide serves as a practical checklist for determining a community’s age-friendliness along several essential dimensions at any given time (as well as tracking progress or regression over time). Without elaborating the full detail of the assessment checklist, the key dimensions are:
- Outdoor spaces and buildings.
- Social participation.
- Respect and social inclusion.
- Civic participation and employment.
- Communication and information.
- Community support and health services.
In light of a decade of austerity following the 2008 global financial crisis, it’s unlikely that many urban communities would currently get high marks for age-friendliness. Is it too much to hope that 2020 might mark the start of a turnaround? At the very least, cities – Hattiesburg included – should have the courage to hold up the guide as a mirror showing how well (or poorly) it’s doing in fulfilling the challenge of “active aging” for a growing share of its population.