Dublin Welcomes the World: The First International Conference on Age-Friendly Cities
You have no doubt heard that the world is getting older. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that by 2025, nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population will be 55 or older. And the age wave spans the globe.
But, do you know about the Age-Friendly Cities initiative? Conceived in Brazil in 2005 at the World Congress of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics, the idea — with the goal of "addressing the environmental and social factors that contribute to active and healthy ageing in societies" — quickly sprouted and grew. The concept became concrete in 2007 when the World Health Organization (WHO) published Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide after analyzing input from older people around the world to identify features of age-friendly cities. Worldwide interest led to formation of the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities in 2010, which almost 500 cities and communities in 14 countries had joined by September 2011.
Which brings us to: the First International Conference on Age-Friendly Cities, held in Dublin, Ireland, from September 28 through 30, 2011. The lead organizers of the conference were WHO, the International Federation on Ageing, and Ireland's Ageing Well Network, the last of which took up the gauntlet by hosting the conference in its capital city. The work of key individuals in these three organizations, along with an international advisory board, resulted in an atmosphere that was seriously productive while surprisingly light-hearted and stress-free. The conference aimed to advance thinking and action on the topic throughout the world, and to strengthen WHO's Global Network.
Ireland has a right to be proud: each of the Republic of Ireland's 26 counties is part of the network, and nine have become age-friendly counties. And New York City has reason to be proud as well: it was the first member of the global network of age-friendly cities. Upon accepting their certificate in New York City in 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared that, "An age-friendly city is a city for all ages." Ambassador James Joseph, who had served as the U.S. representative in a young South Africa, gave the first of the keynote speeches and presented a vision of older adults as the natural leaders of the world. Drawing upon memories of the older leaders who had mentored him while participating in civil rights activities in Alabama, Ambassador Joseph masterfully outlined the assets that can only be gained over the years one lives — emotional intelligence, social intelligence, moral intelligence, and spiritual intelligence.
On the first evening of the conference, September 28, history was made when the Dublin Declaration was signed by mayors and other representatives of cities and communities throughout the world — including New York City's Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs — in Dublin's City Hall. By signing, they pledged their commitment to participate in the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities. The magnificent setting, a stirring speech by Dublin's Lord Mayor Andrew Montague, the stately necklaces worn by the Irish dignitaries, the bagpipers, macebearers, and trumpeters all lent a regally festive air to the event.
Throughout the three days, plenary sessions and workshops provided attendees with access to leaders in the fields of urban studies, city planning, gerontology, sociology, social work, transportation, sustainability, psychology, anthropology, and public health.
The Global Village — pavilions showcasing initiatives happening throughout the world — were set up in a nearby hall. Several time slots were set aside for delegates to visit the Village to view the impressive work being done and to hear from those intimately involved. New York City's pavilion was a masterpiece of simplicity, featuring five jumbo-sized photographs of older New Yorkers with quotes elicited from them during the information-gathering of the pilot stage of NYC's Age-Friendly efforts. A binder with all relating products and publicity, including the list of 10 Ways to Make Your Library Age-Friendly, was available for perusal, and attractive postcards pointed to the age-friendly NYC website. Acknowledging the role of creativity in healthy aging, postcards featuring the Creative Aging art courses offered in 2010 (and to be again offered in 2012) in public libraries were handed out. These were arranged through the efforts of the New York-based organization, Lifetime Arts. Videos of NYC's first two Aging Improvement Districts, East Harlem and the Upper West Side, were shown continuously at the pavilion as well — and garnered great attention, especially when the background salsa music wafted through the room!
I think I speak for all of us who attended the conference from New York City when I say we were happy to share what has been accomplished here, stimulated by what is happening elsewhere, and filled to the brim with information and ideas for future directions.