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Building (back) better cities for aged people in Europe

RSA Blog
RSA Blog Europe

Covid-19 outbreak has affected mostly people in the second half of their lives, at risk of isolation and loneliness; indeed, the impact of the pandemic was even more severe for the well-being of the elderly. Such a recent event has to be framed within the challenge of the demographic increase of people aged 65 years or older, which is particularly relevant in the European context, posing challenges to the society due to the size of the phenomenon.


Elderly in European Cities

We explore and identify the most relevant factors making cities a suitable place for the elderly to live in, which turn particularly important after the emergence of dysfunction and fragility in health, employment, transportation and welfare systems due to the pandemic. Our results, based on a survey representative of 83 European cities in 36 countries, can be a guideline for building back better cities for elderlies after the Covid-19 pandemic.


What factors make European cities liveable for the elderly?

Among the urban features under analysis, those linked to the urban environment and the neighbourhood strongly correlate with the subjective agreement about the city being a good place to live in for the elderly. The importance of satisfaction with the neighbourhood, which embraces both a physical and social dimension, is in line with the “15-Minute City” concept by Carlos Moreno. Indeed, it would be simplistic to interpret this satisfaction as the mere ability to reach services and facilities like groceries and pharmacies as it also fosters a sense of belonging to the community that can be enhanced through social interaction with neighbours. Similarly, the availability of sport facilities, together with the possibility of breathing clean air, pertinent to the framework of healthy and active ageing, prove to be an important element contributing to the liveability of European cities and essential drivers towards a dignified ageing.

Notably, healthier lives could reduce pressure on health systems and improve the sustainability of public spending. As far as the set of healthy and active lifestyle-related variables is concerned, the issue of satisfaction with medical facilities should receive further attention due to the spread of Covid-19 and hospitalizations, leading to unintended consequences like staffing shortages and delayed or cancelled procedures. Furthermore, the strong correlation between items pertaining to the provision of services by the local public administration and healthcare facilities and the statement “the city where I live is a good place for the elderly” validates the importance of designing citizen-centred solutions and benefits. Finally, the assessment of features associated with the possibility to start an entrepreneurial activity in later age, as well as the possibility of receiving material help, when needed, test as strong predictors of the perception of living in an inclusive city.

Our results have various policy implications. The assessment should provide a contribution to European decision-making processes headed to improve the perception of age-friendliness of urban environments, implementing a paradigm for reference, given the great heterogeneity of features characterizing European cities.


*Funding acknowledgement: This work has been possible thanks to the Regional Studies Association Small Grant Scheme on Pandemics, Cities, Regions & Industry


Nicola Pontarollo

Department of Economics and Management, University of Brescia,


Maria Laura Parisi

Department of Economics and Management, University of Brescia,


Carolina Foglia

Department of Economics, University of Perugia,



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