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The Eight Essential Elements of an Age-friendly Neighbourhood

7 Sep 2023 | Happy Ageing Lab

Have you ever imagined what physical elements of the neighbourhood could help nurture and sustain older adults’ health and well-being?

The built environment is crucial to older adults’ well-being, serving as the primary living and activity area for ageing-in-place. Based on our research of existing literature, and the prevailing international and local guidelines, we have identified eight key design elements of an age-friendly neighbourhood that will help improve older adults’ health and well-being in the long run. Those design elements can also benefit other age groups or individuals of varying capacity levels.

Accessibility and connectivity

Universal access, such as ramps, lifts, appropriate handrail systems according to users’ height, and smooth and continuous paths, should be provided in the neighbourhood. When a person in a wheelchair and on crutches, or other physically challenged social groups can access all places without barriers or high physical efforts, universal access is achieved. Accessibility and connectivity are important for promoting access and utilisation of facilities and spaces. Especially for older adults with declining physical or cognitive capacity, such design and planning considerations can encourage their out-of-home activities, access to services, active lifestyle, and socialization within their home areas, which are fundamental to their well-being.

Project name: Magma Flow

Location: Ningbo, Zhejiang, China

(Source: 100 Architects. 2022)

Flexibility of spatial usage

Flexible spatial usage comes in place when the design configuration of the place is adaptable for all users, various activities and functions. From morning group exercises for older adults to setting up a badminton net for teenagers after school, the place should be supportive and easily adjusted. An age-friendly neighbourhood should allow more than one group of users to occupy the space at different times of the day for different activities to promote community participation and dialogues. If the place already has a designated function, there should be minimum restrictions, unless the types of use would pose safety risks to other users and public at large.

(Source: Gunnar Knechtel / DER SPIEGEL, N.A.)

(Source: GuocoLand, N.A.)

Visibility and wayfinding For the older adults who are visually impaired and those with various levels of cognitive impairment (e.g., dementia), it is important to have clear visibility and wayfinding in an age-friendly neighbourhood to address their needs. Features that could boost older adults’ five senses – sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, will help them navigate through the neighbourhood better without extra assistance. Especially in the sense of sight, having high colour contrast signages and directories in both indoor and outdoor spaces will help lead the way to users’ destinations. Also, colours will allow cognitive impaired users to recognise spaces better and will further provide high spatial visibility. For example, having contrasting colors between flooring materials and walls, and staircase steps and landings will help differentiate level differences and spatial depth. More importantly, to improve older adults’ spatial perception and avoid disorientation, having recognisable landmarks or physical features that represent the place will increase their familiarity of the place and orientation. Having high visibility and clear wayfinding will prevent unnecessary injuries and help them navigate around the neighbourhood.

(Source: RSM Design, N.A.)

(Source: Pinterest, 2023)

(Source: Made Go Design, 2017)

Resting and seating

For older adults, resting and seating areas are crucial. A sufficient number of benches and seating areas should be provided in public open spaces, communal spaces, along pedestrian pathways, public transport facilities, and even in the lifts to offer prompt rest opportunities and comfort for those in need. Sufficient seating would enhance the walking experience and promote out-of-home activities for older adults, fostering care-free participation in the community. Other age groups can also benefit from the improvement of resting and seating areas, for example, caregivers who need a break from taking care of children or the elderly, and the youth who need a place to hang out. The areas thus have the potential for encounters and interactions of different age groups, fostering intergenerational solidarity and community development at large.

(Source: Raphaël Thibodeau, 2017)

(Source: Inspiration in Design, N.A.)

Greenery and vegetation

Greenery and vegetation are highly appreciated by all groups, especially in the groups of the older adults in Hong Kong. Not only does it provide natural shading and visual attraction, but greenery will also activate different spaces and activities. As a matter of fact, some bigger trees provide natural “canopies” that could act as a shelter or a cover for older adults to rest, as well as to provide a covered area to embrace natural socialisation. In some particular communities and neighbourhoods, greenery serves as the spot for community and social gatherings, providing opportunities for physical activities and gathering of many user groups. In the older adult group, many of them use green spaces to exercise, to conduct martial arts classes in the morning, and often occupy the area to hang out with friends and family. Greenery and vegetation will encourage people to experience the outdoor space while experiencing natural light and fresh air. Well-selected species of vegetation which can feature seasonal changes facilitate the association of older adults with natural timelines, keeping them sensitive to time. Provision of quality green spaces is thus key to the physical and mental wellbeing of older adults. Plants which can adapt to local climate and physical conditions shall be prioritised to maiximise the positive impacts to the older adults.

(Source: Landworks Studio, 2016)

Thermal comfort

Older adults are less capable of adjusting body temperature, and thus extreme climates may threaten their health. Considering the hot and humid climate in Hong Kong, improving thermal comfort is necessary for the elderly to comfortably enjoy the outdoor space in all weather. It is suggested that blue-green features should be thoroughly considered when designing the outdoor space. Green spaces, such as trees, grass lawns with natural tree canopies coverage are elements to lower the surrounding temperature and to improve microclimate while blue spaces, such as playable water features, are commonly used in outdoor areas for cooling and enhancing visual attraction. Moreover, active ventilation and shading devices should be utilized as an outdoor shading and temperature control system. For example, outdoor ceiling fans, overhead mist systems, and canopies can be incorporated into the urban spaces to provide thermal comfort. A properly designed and developed thermal comfort system could reduce dehydration and overheating.

(Source: RIF攝影工作室-陳冠宇, N.A.)

(Source: RIF攝影工作室-陳冠宇, N.A.)

(Source: Otto Ng, 2019)

Proximity and diversity of community facilities

Provision of diverse community facilities is key. Sports facilities, parks and playgrounds, markets, and community and service centres shall be concentrated within a walkable distance in the neighbourhood to address needs of different social groups and age groups. For older adults, the proximity of community facilities might affect whether they are willing to participate in the community given that they might be less likely to travel for a far distance due to their physical ability. Their perceived distance may vary from that of other age groups. The highly dense urban environment as Hong Kong favors provision and concentration of diverse community facilities. However, such provision is often challenged by lack of space. More flexible and mobile means of service provision may be required.

(Source: Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl, N.A.)

Public transportation facilities

An age-friendly neighbourhood should be connected to other neighbourhoods as well as the greater district. Given the limited land supply, it is challenging to have all community facilities readily available within one neighbhourhood. Therefore, public transportation is essential to promote out-of-home activities, active lifestyle and access to services, especially for older adults who may need frequent visits to certain facilities for health and care purposes. Public transport facilities should be near all residents in the neighbourhood and should be designed with an age-friendly concept, such as easily accessible drop-off areas with appropriate universal design provision, public transportation stops with covered seating areas, and well-lit and naturally ventilated public transport interchange.

(Source: Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl, N.A.)

(Source: cepezed | Lucas van der Wee, 2019)

Age-friendly neighbourhoods shall serve to improve older adults’ living quality and accommodate their needs. The design rationale is to consider the varying abilities of the older adults, their physical and mental conditions, and their mental wellbeing to create a living environment in which everyone, particularly older adults, can enjoy, feel safe and attached, and is willingly to call it “HOME”.

How age-friendly is the neighbourhood you are living in?


1. Aboim Borges, M. de, & Silva, F. M. (2015). User-sensing as part of a wayfinding design process. Procedia Manufacturing, 3, 5912–5919.

3. Housing LIN. (2009). The Housing Our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) report (2009). Housing LIN - Connecting people, ideas and resources.

4. Housing LIN. (2013). Landscape design principles for Dementia Care (2nd edition). Landscape Design for Dementia Care.

5. Kleibusch, Kaitlyn (2018) "Wayfinding & Dementia: How Design Can Improve Navigation Among Older Adults in Assisted-Living Facilities," SPNHA Review: Vol. 14: Iss. 1, Article 5.

6. World Health Organization. (‎2007)‎. Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide. World Health Organization.

Acknowledgement - 嗚謝

Incubators – ZeShan Foundation and Ho Cheung Shuk Yuen Charitable Foundation



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