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Urban Planning For The Ages, Buenos Aires Gets Senior-Friendly

A quarter of Buenos Aires residents are over 60 years old
A quarter of Buenos Aires residents are over 60 years old
Graciela Gioberchio

BUENOS AIRES — This city wants to make itself a kinder, friendlier place for the elderly, with plans to improve urban infrastructure and promote common-sense practices to help reduce accidents inside homes.

Taking its lead from the World Health Organization (WHO), which has pushed in recent years for more user-friendly cities and better conditions for senior citizens, Buenos Aires is joining 31 cities in 22 countries working to identify and improve key elements in city life.

The municipal government in Buenos Aires has forged a comprehensive plan, called PIAM, to revamp public spaces and improve the homes of the elderly. It expects to implement the changes beginning next year.

The plans include new, better-suited furniture in public places (park benches that are specifically adapted, for example, to older people's body shapes), prototypes of tricycles the elderly can use along cycling tracks, and more roofs over bus stops. The city also plans to measure how long it really takes seniors to cross busy streets and reprogram traffic lights accordingly.

The world is getting older, and Buenos Aires is no exception. A quarter of its residents — some 700,000 people — are over 60 years old. "That's why we're working to identify needs and develop prototypes," says Claudio Romero, the person in charge of the project.

Other items in the PIAM plan include better wheelchair access to pedestrian zones like the Plaza de Mayo, Puerto Madero or Plaza San Martín, and a set of easy-to-follow guidelines to help seniors avoid mishaps in their homes. "These are simple measures, such as raising the height of sockets, having fewer items of furniture, not using carpets, mats or rugs, or fixing handles in the bathroom," she says.

Silvia Gascón, head of the geriatrics masters program at the Isalud University in La Plata, has been studying the WHO's recommendations for years and has worked with several Argentine cities on ways to better adapt to seniors. "It's important that all the different parties involved collaborate to make sure older people feel included — without barriers, be they architectural or cultural," she says.

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