Which cities have the oldest residents?
By 2020, the global population of people over 60 will outnumber children under five for the first time. How will our ageing communities affect urban life – and where is the phenomenon most noticeable?
One of Tokyo’s many grey-haired taxi drivers once challenged me to guess his age. Trying to be polite, I pegged him at 64. “I’m 82”, he grinned.
Such an admission wouldn’t usually inspire confidence in a passenger. But in Tokyo, where almost a quarter of the population are over 65, working so late in life isn’t just a personal triumph; it’s fast becoming a social necessity.
Japan, which has the highest proportion of people over 65 in the world, is ahead of other countries in embracing ageing as an urban phenomenon. Its capital city is a good example of an appropriate urban environment for older people: for one, you’ll rarely find steps in public buildings or train stations in Tokyo without an accompanying ramp or lift. Everything from the traffic lights to elevators to the ATMs talks at you, often in a squeaky voice. This isn’t a cutesy Japanese foible, as many foreign visitors assume – it’s to ensure that signals and instructions are also communicated to people with poor eyesight.
Cities have traditionally run on young blood, defined by energy, innovation and change, while getting older has been associated with embracing a quieter life in the suburbs or rural areas. And yet, as a result of the economic development and advances in healthcare in the 20th century, the world is both urbanising and ageing. These twin challenges are converging to create a new phenomenon: silver cities.