Design city to boost well-being of older persons: interesting EU projects

26 September 2019

Europe’s cities are getting greyer. The EU’s 2018 ageing report claims that by 2070, more than half of Europeans will be over the age of 65. Poor health and a limited income mean older people can be more susceptible to isolation, depression and mental decline.

A combination of neurologists, architects, artists, and epidemiologists are now seeing how to do just that, by testing people’s emotional response to spaces such as redeveloped buildings and plazas before a single brick is laid. As part of the MINDSPACES project, artists and architects first come up with a blueprint for a city square, for example, which can then be turned into a digital simulation. Locals can then ‘see’ what the simulated blueprint looks like by donning a pair of virtual reality (VR) goggles. One of the project’s test cases involves redesigning and refurbishing seniors’ homes in Paris, France, to make them more ‘emotionally friendly’ for the residents. Working with the healthcare initiative eSeniors, architects and artists will redesign this space so that it offers different artworks and furniture to address emotions such as isolation and loss.

In parallel the MINDMAP project is looking at what policies and designs in cities across Europe and North America could boost mental health among older city dwellers. The project has already suggested a link between a UK initiative of giving the elderly free bus passes and an increase in mental wellbeing. This, says Prof van Lenthe, may be due to bus journeys helping people go and meet others, and thus reducing loneliness. The researchers have also found more nuanced features of urban design. Building high-density apartments helps to encourage walking and cycling, boosting mental health. But building apartments too densely has the opposite effect.