November 16 2012

Infrastructure for the Elderly: Learning from the Netherlands’ Aging Population

Elderly Biking AmsterdamUnlike other countries, the Netherlands appears to be on track to support it’s growing elderly population financially; however, as in many places with historical infrastructure, a big question is whether or not the built environment suites the needs for traditionally differently-abled populations. Newer cities with more modern designs are more likely to accommodate access for all, but traditional cobblestone roads are not.

One of my first walks to the city center of Amsterdam took me through a neighborhood that, it is easy to tell, attracts an older population. The southern neighborhood, just at the border with Amstelveen, is outside of the central city, less dense in some ways, and free of the intense hustle and bustle of the touristy streets found in other parts of the city. It was here that I first saw a motorized wheelchair utilizing the bike lane.

Since then I have seen plenty replicas of the wheelchair zooming down bike lanes, observed the usefulness of a motorized bike or scooter for those wanting to cover a longer distance without extensive effort, and have even been passed up by an elderly couple biking over a bridge. I have also seen treacherous tram line/car/bike crossings, high curbs, and other possible engineering impediments. You would think this could have a possible impact on an aging population.

I can’t completely speak to the percentage of people over 65 no longer utilizing the city due to access issues, but the Netherlands does have much higher percentages of elderly biking (25%) and walking (20%) than other developed countries.

In the US, there is a movement to encourage aging in place in lieu of sending parents and grandparents to retirement facilities. Such facilities are few and far between in the Netherlands for many reasons, but one that could be exported to a place like the US is the high variety of diverse housing options and home designs that appeal to the elderly. These may not be in the city center, but they are still in walkable/bikeable/wheelable places with groceries, transit, and parks nearby making elderly visible in society instead of removed to pre-designated homes.

Although elderly still have access to certain parts of the city, these seem to be more periphery than central areas. Should urban planners devote significantly more time and money to making all parts of the city comfortable for the elderly to visit and or live?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Ellen Schwaller

Ellen Schwaller is a former GRID blogger and graduate of Arizona State University's master's program in Urban and Environmental Planning. Spending most of her life in the sprawling sunbelt, it was a recognized desire for human-centered rather than auto-centered places that drew her to the planning field. With a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science, she looks for ways to integrate the natural and built environments to create spaces and neighborhoods that matter. A large part of her research has been in the realm of residential perception and attitudes and how this might inform city and neighborhood planning and design.

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 16th, 2012 at 9:01 pm and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Engineering, Housing, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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