Making cities work for one & all

In the quest to become livable and sustainable, cities will have to meet several challenges while addressing the needs of some of the following:

Older persons
As many countries around the world ‘age’, i.e. comprise growing numbers of older persons in their population, cities are understanding the special needs of such senior citizens and very senior citizens. Administrators and policy makers are realizing that these older persons are ones with a voice and importantly with a vote. These voices are increasingly coming to count. Efforts are on to craft cities that are friendly to the aged.
Several parameters may work to make cities preferred by the aged. Primary among them is a low crime rate. Safety, including outdoor safety becomes very important especially when such citizens are without the presence of younger family members or when these persons venture out alone. City security systems such as beat policing of vulnerable locations and households can instill confidence and make such neighbourhoods preferred. While such arrangements are best provided in specially gated enclaves for the older persons, care is required to see that this does not result in ‘locking in’ the citizens and ‘excluding’ them from normal day-to-day life of the city such as can happen in old-age homes. Such homes also preclude access for senior citizens to the young and children and thus block out an important source of energy and vitality in their lives.
Other aspects that cities must look at is providing good healthcare options, namely doctors, paramedics, diagnostics facilities, care givers and assisting living facilities. These facilities are again best provided in closed gate communities – not the best option, and hence calls for innovative thinking and meticulous implementation.
Appropriate leisure opportunities are necessary for these aged, mostly retired citizens in order for them to live richer and fuller lives. Some communities are putting together skilling activities for seniors in order that these persons may remain relevant in a fast-changing technology world, not necessarily to earn livelihood, but even to contribute to society in their own small ways and enable them ‘talk the language’ of their younger neighbours.
Short travel distances and convenient public transport can enable them move around and access places and activities of their interest.
Generally smaller cities and towns score well on above compared to large ones, therefore smaller towns are more suited for older persons.
One survey has found Chandigarh to be a suitable location for older citizens because of the fact that it is a planned city, has an airport and is close to Delhi offering even greater air and rail connectivity. The city reportedly has affordable real estate options. Coimbatore is another good destination. As alubrious climate, good infrastructure including medical benefits and nearby holiday destinations such as Ooty make it a good option. However, its emergence as a preferred IT hub may lead to crowding and higher real estate prices. Pune, once a ‘Pensioners’ Paradise, has in the last few decades become an industrial hub and an IT hotspot which has transformed its profile, but still remains a preferred location for the aged too because of its relatively good climate, affordable real estate prices, range of quality medical facilities, numerous eat-out options, and good air and rail connectivity. Bengaluru could be quite similar to Pune.

According to a World Bank assessment, one in every 12 households has a person living with a disability. Therefore it is essential for every city and town to work towards making itself a disabled-friendly one. Since the range of disabilities is wide, so also several measures need to be put in place to address the special needs of these citizens.
Visually impaired, hearing impaired and those with mobility constraints would all need different special measures. The need for measures is realised unanimously and therefore these aspects have been built into the statute books of city governments and others. Specific measures are outlined in the plans of various cities and towns. Dropped kerbs to provide wheelchair access and low–floor buses are almost universally acknowledged as necessary measures.
People with disabilities require ease of access to buildings – public and private, as well as to public spaces such as walkways, gardens and parks, other public utilities and transportation. Some other measures include toilets in buildings to have appropriate modifications, elevators with audio signals in addition to visual displays, street traffic signalswith audio alerts, and so on.
These and several other measures are required to ensure inclusion and enable near-full participation of specially abled persons in society.
Some destinations have made a mark in terms of their disabled-friendliness for visitors.
Ernakulam’s Kochi Fort in Kerala is a sought after heritage tourist destination. It can be considered among the early disabled-friendly ones. This fort has been provided with suitably designed ramps and non-slip tiles for providing safe and convenient access for the elderly, the disabled and those who are wheel-chair bound. It also has facilities to address the needs of those who suffer from visual and hearing impairments.
One district in the State, Kannur, has a large number of government offices which offer barrier-free access for the specially-abled. Other locations in the state are working to become easily accessible to tourists with disabilities. The City of Delhi made special efforts nearly twenty years ago when the Late Stephen Hawking visited the city to participate in a conference and expressed the desire to visit Jantar Mantar, Qutb Minar and other tourist spots in 2001.
It is said that this event gave momentum to efforts to make the tourist spots more easily accessible to specially-abled tourists. Several hotels in Delhi and the Delhi Metro (ramps and elevators, braille inscribed buttons, tactile markings) are examples of spaces that are working on the ‘Cities for All’ principle. The Archeological Survey of India under its ‘Accessible India’ initiative is working to make many more tourism assets of
the country accessible to specially-abled persons.

Cities for Youth
All successful cities would aim to meet the needs of the youth, a crucial segment of the city’s population. So what makes a city good for the youth? Primarily it has to be job opportunities. Cities with low unemployment rates, high median wage levels and growing wages are obviously the preferred ones. In addition to employment opportunities, a city must offer affordability in order to be accessible to the youth. Affordability of rents for housing would be a crucial parameter. A city which offers good jobs and wages but with high rental costs may not be very youth-friendly. Other aspects could be access to entertainment, food options and so on.

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