Even though the rate of urbanization in Europe is slowing according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division, 82.2 million Europeans will be living in major urban areas in 2050. This amounts to approximately an additional 10 million people than were currently living in European cities in 2011. (World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision) More than a third of these Europeans will be over 60 years old in 2050 according to the Council of Europe. These statistics portend an increasing need for Europe to review the age-friendliness of their cities and communities in order to take action and make changes in their cities and communities to accomodate an increasing aging European population.
In its report Global Age-friendly Cities and Communities – A Guide, the World Health Organization characterizes an age-friendly city as a place which „…encourages active ageing by optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age. In practical terms, an age-friendly city adapts its structures and services to beaccessible to and inclusive of older people with varying needs and capacities.“
Looking to the Czech Republic to explore age-friendly cities
During the planning for the European Voices for Active Ageing (EVAA) project, the topic of age-friendly cities and communities was identified as one of the key factors to fostering active ageing. As a result, it was selected as a topic. The Thematic Café „Creating an Age-friendly Prague“ was developed and realized together with our EVAA partner in the Czech Republic, the Institute for Gerontology / Zivot 90 together with four Czech facilitators aged 60+.
The purpose of this Thematic Café was „To give 50+ citizens the courage to have a voice; to discover the potential of Prague’s 50+ adults; to help them define their active role to create an age-friendly Prague.“ By inviting adults in later life to explore this issue with each other, the EVVA Prague dialogue was aiming to fulfill the following goals:
1) Identify what is needed to make Prague an age-friendly city
2) Collect ideas and suggestions from 50+ adults
3) Explore way for 50+ adults to be an active player in the process to create an age-friendly Prague
4) To select ideas to present to other organizations for collaboration and/or implementation
EVAA Prague was a Thematic Café designed to generate ideas
The design of the EVAA Prague Thematic Café was a Generative Café, a classical form of a World Café to generate new ideas and insights about a question or topic which emerges from a collective understanding of an issue. Three quarters of the 90 adults who participated in the dialogue „Creating an Age-friendly Prague“ were over the age of 61. The eldest participant was 95 years old. As an aside, it is worth noting that most of these participants grew up behind the Iron Curtain. Despite not having experience with a dialogue culture during most of their lives, the Czech participants positively embraced the opportunity to be in conversation with each other in a trusting and comfortable environment.
The EVAA Prague questions were designed to stimulate the participants‘ thinking about the aspects which make an age-friendly city and what simple steps could be taken to make Prague a more age-friendly city. The eight WHO Age-friendly topic areas were reproduced on roll-ups to serve as a guide for these table discussions. The dialogues encouraged the participants to explore the role which each individual as an older adult could play to help create an age-friendly Prague. To quote one of the EVAA Prague adult facilitators, the dialogue’s design approach was to empower the participants to “catch the fish not give the fish.” In other words, it was about unleashing the potential of collective wisdom of the older adults in the room in order to identify the issues of an age-friendly city which were most important to them. Hundreds of suggestions were generated during the course of the dialogue, over 1oo ideas in the first hour alone. At the end of the dialogue, all the participants were asked to select the ideas which in their opinion would be the most useful.
What ideas and recommendations emerged from the EVAA Prague dialogues?
Like their counterparts throughout Europe, these adults in later life want to have a voice about the issues that matter to them and be actively involved in policy making which affect their daily lives. They also saw the need to foster more intergenerational dialogue and cooperation to address the ’soft issues‘ of creating an age-friendly city such as community support, social participation, respect/social inclusion and employment/civic participation. 58% of the participants stated that age discrmination and intergenerational fairness were issues of interest to them.
In the response to the question „What specific aspects of Prague could be MORE age-friendly?“ during the early phase of the dialogue, the participants emphasized the infrastructure issues such as outdoor spaces/buildings, housing and transport along with respect/social inclusion. As the dialogue developed, dialogue questions were posed about the role which adults in later life can play to create an age-friendly city. During this phase of the dialogue, these adults began to identify their specific role as a player to foster the ’soft side‘ of age-friendly cities. From their perspective, simple steps to create an age-friendly city could be taken in the area of respect/social inclusion (39,6%) civic participation (20,8%) and social participation (18,8%). When asked to select the best ideas emerging from the dialogues, respect/social inclusion was mentioned three times more (52,4%) than the other top two best ideas of communication (14,3%) and outdoor spaces/building (14,3%).
Perhaps the most interesting result of the EVAA Prague – Creating an age-friendly Prague dialogue emerged when a comparison of the evaluation results (questionnaire with closed and open questions) and the ideas/recommendations from each of the dialogue rounds were made with each other. This review revealed that during the course of the dialogue, the participants developed a deeper understanding of the issues relating to creating an age-friendly city and their role in that process. One in three participants stated that the dialogue enabled them to better understand their role in society. During the course of the dialogue, the nature of the ideas and recommendations began to reflect their understanding that older adults have a central and important role to play. This is confirmed by their self-assessment as reflected in the questionnaire results of their personal ability to show empathy for others and have wisdom to offer based on their life experiences.
The impact of the dialogue was also reflected in the motivation of the participants to continue their active participation in the process to create an age-friendly Prague- 52% were very or extremely motivated to further engage with the topic of age-friendly cities.
These results confirm that the inclusion of adults in later life in the creation of age-friendly cities and communities in all its aspects offers a wealth of wisdom and experience to enrich the process. World Café Europe would like to continue its cooperation with older adults throughout the city of Prague. We are also exploring options to share the insights of our EVAA Prague dialogue and process with the age-friendly city and community movement in Europe and worldwide.