Urban Planners Can Learn Through Play

Our global population continues to grow, and with discoveries about human health extending lifespans, this trend is not likely to slow down. By 2050, our planet will see a 1000% increase in people over 100 years of age. For the first time in history, the global population’s percentage of elderly citizens will match that of individuals younger than 15. The rate of individuals living in urban centers is also on the rise – by 2050 it’s forecast that 70% of global citizens will live in cities. It is not surprising, then, that one of the hot topics in city planning today is the “Age-Friendly Cities” movement. Simply put, this refers to the design of public urban space with everyone in mind, particularly the elderly and children, who have not historically been considered when creating urban environments. Superblocks, or large squares of urban space where traffic is limited to the perimeter – preserving the area for pedestrians – is one example of such design.


What leads city planners to actual innovations in design? A critical factor is engagement with the population in consideration. In the UK, planners are using street audits with older residents to collect data and suggestions on what improvements can be made. Landmarks that help streets and communities to be more easily recognizable for those suffering with dementia is one new concept.  Similarly, engaging with children can inspire planners. Instead of considering measures which simply dissuade kids to utilize public space, (like “The Mosquito,” a device which emits an ear-crushing beep at a frequency most commonly heard by people  under age 25), either for their safety or to prevent loitering, planners are now listening and observing to gain perspective and new ideas on how to design so that every age group can prosper in an urban environment.

According to Dr. Clement Lau, Departmental Facilities Planner with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, playing with his 5-year old daughter opened his eyes to the importance of hearing from people representing all members of the community and planning along with them. Click here to read more of his insights:


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