Demand for senior-friendly spaces in Russia

Vidiasova on the left, Kuprienko in the centre, and Rodionava on the right.

Lyudmila Vidiasova,
Ph.D., Head
Monitoring and Research Department, eGovernance Center, ITMO University,
Saint Petersburg, Russia

Igor Kuprienko,
Project Development Division, ITMO University,
Saint Petersburg, Russia

Ekaterina Rodionova,
Project Development Division, ITMO University,
Saint Petersburg, Russia

A sharp increase in the percentage of elderly people is expected in urban areas. According to a number of studies, by the middle of the 21st century, every three of 5 older people will live in cities. This trend underlines the overall focus on urbanization and an increase in the urban population up to 80%. Of course, the trend in urbanization entails the need for changes in urban planning, in particular in the development of areas that meet the needs of older people. In Russia, attention has begun to be paid to such issues. In 2019, the national project “Demography” was launched, one of the subsections of which is dedicated to the older generation.  This section is oriented on increase the active period of a healthy life (up to 67 years), and its duration – up to 78 years.

We conducted two waves of sociological research in Russia in 2020 to find out the needs of older people in creating comfortable public spaces. In the first study, we interviewed 30 leaders of organizations (authorities, museums, libraries, sports clubs, educational institutions, cafes) visited by older people in one Russian megapolisis. In the second study, we interviewed 120 respondents online (age 60+) living in all federal districts of Russia. The research made it possible to assess the current state of public spaces and their orientation towards the needs of the elderly. According to the research results, we can talk about the following trends.

First, among the respondents, a half visits public places alone, and half come in the company of friends or relatives. The preferences of older people are mostly concentrated around outdoor public spaces (80%). Quite often, older people use such furniture in public places as seats in transport (71%), benches (68%), sitting in waiting areas, queues (47%). In the study, respondents identified the following shortcomings that hinder the use of furniture in public places: it can be dirty or broken (66%), very few elements of adapted elements outdoors (28%), the elderly have difficulties in sitting or getting out of furniture (11%), they have nowhere to put a cane when using furniture and it falls (10%), they are afraid to sit alone (9%), they are afraid of falling off the furniture (4%).

Second, in the survey the “silver age” respondents especially noted the importance of such characteristics of furniture in public places as the opportunity to relax (42%), listen to their favorite music or radio (46%), watch films or videos (43%), do a little exercise while sitting (17 %). Older people admit that they become more tired over the years. They more often need to sit and rest.

Third, the organizations responsible for the development of public places talked about plans to renovate territories, replace furniture (43%) in the near future. At the same time, 57% plan to implement intelligent solutions and technologies. According to the management of organizations, the most demanded are IT solutions, the installation of elevators and the placement of comfortable furniture. Among the main barriers hindering the positive transformation of public spaces, one can single out the lack of necessary funding (60%), difficulties in organizing public procurement (57%), as well as insufficient understanding of the real needs of people in older age groups. The main criteria that determine the choice of one or another furniture for public places are, first of all, its compliance with fire safety measures (98%) and price (97%). Further, in descending order of priority, following the service life (90%), ease of cleaning (80%), antibacterial properties of surfaces (73%), design and ergonomics (66%), adaptation to the needs of older people (33%). However, only 10% of the surveyed institutions conduct specialized research on the real needs of older people.

The research results show, on the one hand, the need to conduct representative research in target groups of new public spaces’ users, and on the other hand, the importance of developing specialized furniture that takes into account the characteristics of older people and their needs for leisure activities in accordance with health parameters.

The study was performed with financial support by the Interreg BSR Program (project № R081): “Innovative solutions to support BSR in providing more senior – friendly public spaces due to increased capacity of BSR companies and public institutions”.

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