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How to design for an aging population

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​24 October 2016

How to design for an aging population

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Sport and Culture; Co-Creation, Co-Growth for Tokyo 2020 (Active by Design: Living in the City of the Future)​

By Toshiro Sato​, Head of Occupier Services, JLL Japan

In an aging society, how should the workplace, homes and public spaces be designed in order to cater for an older generation?

Under the theme, "Active by Design: Living in the City of the Future", the World Economic Forum held this month in Japan offered a chance to focus on how the country, one of the oldest nations in the world, has transformed its real estate in the last decade to provide for the elderly.​

Japan has a solid track record of providing care to its citizens, with longevity and quality of life among the highest in the world. Faced with an ageing population and a diminishing tax base, the government is turning increasingly to innovative solutions to maintain the health and well-being of citizens.

Like many countries facing comparable challenges, Japan has employed a sector-wide strategy to promote culture and active living. One such initiative is Universal Design, which is transforming the urban landscape. Universal Design, in the broadest term, is "design for all people". It seeks to create an environment addressing the needs for all age groups and people of different abilities including temporary disability.

This includes barrier-free pedestrian paths and access roads that allow easy access to all users. Previously ubiquitous utility poles, for instance, are being removed or relocated—to backstreets or underground. Paths for pedestrians, meanwhile, are being greened and widened. 

These measures are evident in areas such as Toronamon and Marunouchi business districts in Tokyo's Minato Ward and Chiyoda Ward, where most foreign embassies and company headquarters are based. In these parts, cultural events, leisure activities, and commerce are being revitalized and are now thriving.

Universal design is also being implemented in bid to support active lifestyles. New cycling lane networks, bicycle parking facilities, and community bicycle-sharing programs are being implemented. These lifestyle enhancement programs are becoming regular features across Tokyo's neighborhoods, with areas like Chuo Ward, Chiyoda Ward, and Koto Ward leading the way.

As the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) noted in 2015, such rapid cultural and lifestyle changes mean Japan's urban landscape has to be fit for purpose. Government and the private sector are expected to play a leading role. 

Indeed, the proliferation of privately funded mixed-use properties in Shibuya Ward, Minato Ward, Meguro Ward, and Tokyo's waterfront area suggests the private sector is ahead of the curve on this.

Such developments combine Universal Design with work-life balance, well-being, and sustainability. Features like community parks, shared open spaces, as well as health care, wellness, and sports facilities are standard.

Within the office, ergonomic computer equipment and desks with adjustable heights to allow periods of work standing up can reduce musculoskeletal pain. Locally controllable lighting enables more comfortable reading, aiding concentration.

The upshot is that both the government's and the private sector's efforts to "future proof" Japan will have an inevitable—and lasting—impact on the urban landscape. Worldwide, the most successful care facilities are not always the newest or the most modern. Rather, they are the ones that have the ability to create a sense of community and well-being in their residents, and those that visitors consider have a positive ambience.

And with the infrastructure, commercial, and urban developments surrounding the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo just beginning, we can expect even greater changes to Tokyo's real estate profile. Health, cultural, and commercial outcomes, moreover, are expected to improve as a result.

Well-thought space planning is enduring, applicable and benefits everyone. While Japan has much to showcase on the benefits of future-proof designs, it also has much to learn from the rest of the globe as the nation is forced to take bold steps with citizens over the age of 65, who are expected to account for 40 percent of its population by 2060.

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