What the City of Brussels is doing to improve the quality of life of its older residents
The city of Brussels, Belgium’s and Europe’s Capital City, counts more than 175000 inhabitants, among those 35000 are people 55+. The latter figure will significantly increase, in particular among people 80+. One out of three senior will indeed be 80+. Another feature of Brussels is its multiculturalism. The city has no fewer than 163 nationalities and in ten years, it is expected that half of the older inhabitants will be of foreign origin. These challenges will need to be addressed with evidence-based policies and exchanges of experiences with partners facing similar challenges.
Back in 2009, the City of Brussels started working on the impact of demographic change with the support of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) (Professor Verté). This collaboration lead to a survey on the needs of senior citizens. The methodology was based on a participatory model - seniors would interview other seniors - and has been successful. Over 83% of respondents gave their opinion on different aspects of urban life: housing, mobility, health, … The results of this survey helped the City of Brussels develop its ageing policy.
Thanks to its efforts made to promote active ageing, the City received in 2010 the WHO label "Age-Friendly City." In 2011 the City confirmed his membership by signing the Dublin Declaration. Since February 2014, the City is a partner of the AFE-INNOVNET Thematic Network.
Via the label "Age Friendly City", the City has launched a programme to improve the quality of life of his older residents. By joining the AFE-INNOVNET network, it reaffirms its commitment to move forward in the development of a City for all Ages and adapt its structures to the demographic change.
The City’s participation in the WHO network and the AFE-INNOVNET network has contributed to the legitimacy of the senior policy among the Municipal Council, which should help secure adequate budget allocations for the implementation of the policy.
Through these networks, the City benefits from exchanges of information, experiences, initiatives and best practices. Methodologies provided by the WHO and AFE-INNOVNET networks help strengthen Brussels’ knowledge and efforts to set up structures and solutions in response to population ageing.
These networks also help the City cooperate with stakeholders active in this area. The complexity of the political structures of the Brussels Capital Region makes policy on this matter often "fuzzy". These networks and their tools, including the label addressing eight areas of life and the good practices, help work towards common goals with common tools. It allows the city to strengthen its position as a strategist and coordinator.
Brussels makes its cooperation within these two networks public through conferences, publications, and through its Advisory Council of Senior Citizens. These dissemination activities have raised awareness about demographic change, which in turn contributed to the emergence of a variety of initiatives in the City.
To move forward, the City will start early next year a new collaboration with the Solvay Brussels School, which will aim at restructuring of a para-municipal association offering assistance to Brussels’ senior residents. The City has the genuine desire to reach the 35,000 people aged 55+, not only those who are active and healthy, but also those with health problems, or those with dementia. A new project in relation to dementia is also on the agenda.
In the same spirit the City of Brussels and the Public Centre for Social Action (CPAS) are strengthening their cooperation and willingness to work together to improve the quality of life of senior inhabitants.
Our objective is that each Alderman takes into account the needs of the senior residents in his/her portfolio. I do so within my portfolio for Seniors, Sports and demographics, e.g. through the programme "Sport for All" which provides older persons with free and very successful tai chi courses in several parks of the City.
Another major event is the Week of Seniors, which is organised by the City each year around the International Day of Older Persons. This week is the flagship event which recalls the essential place of seniors in the City of Brussels and highlights the efforts the City makes for its senior citizens. It also puts older persons in the spotlight by organizing festive, cultural, informational events, including sport and wellness activities.
Brussels, its European partners and the world are facing significant challenges to enable senior citizens to live in a situation of "welfare" with maximum respect for the autonomy of the each one. The experiences of European neighbors will help the City of Brussels move faster to implement effective solutions to the societal implications of the demographic change.