Space, place, and an ageing society podcast
In our ageing society, it is ever more crucial that older people are spatially mobile, have access to public space, and crucially, to social interaction. What, then, should societies do in the future to create a positive environment for their citizens to age?
In this episode of the Emerald Podcast series, our guests Sophie Yarker and Charles Musselwhite, both experts on the relationships between space, place and ageing, join us to discuss why it is important that older people have the tools and support to navigate the world around them.
In her new book, Creating Spaces for an Ageing Society, author Sophie Yarker asks, “How can we use social infrastructure to build local neighbourhoods that are supportive of the social relationships we need later in life?” In a complementary way, in his book, Designing Public Space for an Aging Population, Charles Musselwhite examines the barriers older people face by being a pedestrian in the built environment, and he discusses ways we can overcome these barriers.
Sophie Yarker is based in the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing at The University of Manchester, UK. Since 2021 she has been working on the 'Population Ageing and Urbanisation' project funded by the Leverhulme Trust which is an interdisciplinary and cross-national comparative research project into ageing in place in cities. Sophie is also Deputy Director of the Manchester Urban Ageing Research Group.
Charles B.A. Musselwhite is Professor of Psychology at Aberystwyth University, UK. His research addresses the relationship of the environment to people as they age, including age friendly communities, transport, built environment and home. He is Co-Director of two funded research centres, the Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research and the Transport and Health Integrated Research Network.
In this episode:
- Do older people have a sense of belonging in modern society? How can we strengthen this?
- What impact does access so public space have on the wellbeing of older citizens?
- Which social spaces help to generate different kinds of social relationships in later life?
- How can older people be more visible in their communities?
- How can the built environment be adapted to facilitate access and mobility for older people?
- How does relationship to place change over the life course?
- How has Covid-19 changed relationships with space and place?
- How can we involve older people in conversations about what they want and need from their communities?
Space, place, and an ageing society
Daniel Ridge: Most of us rarely consider the ways in which our local communities and shared spaces provide opportunities for social interaction and encourage the development of social relationships. Further, we often don't consider how older people figure into this equation. But that was the very question that my guests today address. In her new book, Creating Spaces for an Ageing Society, author Sophie Yarker asks, how can we use social infrastructure to build local neighbourhoods that are supportive of the social relationships we needed later life? In a complementary way, in his book, Designing Public Space for an Aging Population, Charles Musselwhite examines the barriers older people face by being a pedestrian in the built environment. And he discusses ways we can overcome these barriers.
Join us today as Charles, Sophie and I consider the challenges older people face in terms of access to the public spaces we all share, and what they mean to their well-being.
Well, welcome, Sophie Charles. And thank you for joining us. So, you're here today to talk about older people's relationship to space and place in the context of an aging population since you both, you know, published books with us on this topic. Can I start by asking you both what you think the biggest challenge we must face to improve older people's experience, access and well-being in relationship to space in place?
Sophie Yarker: Yeah, thank you. I think for me, some of the biggest challenges around barriers for older people accessing and using public spaces are some of their emotional and cultural and social barriers. So older people, I think they can often feel quite alienated from some urban spaces. They might feel that they're not for them as either because their spaces have changed, or because the spaces haven't been designed with old age groups in mind. So, I think that can leave older people feeling quite disconnected from the places that they live. So, even if they can physically access them, which obviously is an issue for some people, and they sometimes feel that those spaces aren't for them, I think this can leave older people feeling quite alienated and detached from their communities, which can lead to social isolation, which has very real life, health and wellbeing benefits. So, for me, it's about making sure other people have social connections with other people in the community, but also that they feel connected to the places that they live as well. So, for me, I'm interested in some of the emotional and social barriers for people accessing public spaces.
DR: What does that look like on a concrete level? Are you talking about stores? You're talking about post offices, things like that to create community? What kind of social spaces are you talking about?
Sophie Yarker: Yeah, I'm talking about any kind of public space. So exactly, things like post offices, bands, shops, cafes, restaurants, but also green spaces, kind of open public spaces, like squares, and plazas, things like that. So, some of those designs can be quite difficult to navigate for older people, sometimes because of our cognitive and physical disabilities. But sometimes it's more of a kind of social and cultural barrier, which is the things that I'm interested in. So, if an older person has lived in a neighbourhood for a number of decades, and it's gone through processes of gentrification, perhaps so kind of different age groups and different kinds of cultural groups have moved into the area, they can feel it that maybe the local coffee shop isn't the kind of space that they used to frequent anymore. They might feel like it's not for them, like it's catering for another age group. Or they might feel that when they go into the local post office or supermarket that the service is very fast and very speeded up, and they don't feel that they can kind of linger there and have conversations. They feel that it's very kind of focused on kind of efficiency, etc. So, all these different ways that can have more subtle cues that other people can feel at those spaces aren't for them. And also, some of those spaces have physically disappeared. Post Offices is a great example of in a lot of communities, local post office branches have been closed libraries, the same things like that. So, some cases of spaces aren't there at all.
DR: Yeah, well, Charles, what do you think? I know, you wrote a lot about pedestrians in your book, in terms of allowing older people to have access and well-being in relationship to space in place, what do you have to take on that?
Charles Musselwhite: Yeah, I think Sophie's answer that excellently and, you know, I can relate it a little bit to that is the fact that, you know, we kind of exclude older people from stuff as a whole, you know. We've got these negative stereotypes of, of old age, which still prevail, you know, everywhere, let alone in your built environment or local area. So, you know, these negative stereotypes suggest things like, you know, older people that can't get out and about, they can't get to things in their community. So what, you know, but so what they shouldn't, they're old, you know, I'm afraid it's fair game, you know, and we need to change that there's a belief that as we age, you know, we perhaps take more from society than we contribute. But we're missing out so much when we exclude older people from the local area, not just individually, not just for older people themselves, but for all of us. And I think, really, that's culturally and socially where I started thinking about, you know, being a pedestrian in your local area, because if you're walking in your local area, you're slowing down your connection to everything around you and you're more likely to bump into other people who are walking and you're more likely to notice other people and to have to rub shoulders and literally let alone socially with other people in your local area. So, you're more likely to perhaps get to know people you build up you know, something that that we call social capital, social bonds with other people. You're more likely therefore to want to know your neighbours or get to know your neighbours. You're more likely to reduce those stereotypes a bit. So, you know, I, along with perhaps some other, you know, famous architects and designers over the years young girl and people nowadays, Dan Raven Ellison, for example, talk a lot about this. If you slow your neighbourhood down, have much more people walking, you end up with much more tolerance, because people end up, you know, chatting to each other and, and getting to know each other a lot more. And, you know, one of the biggest issues that we've had with that is the growth of the motor vehicle, which has invaded that space outside your home, so people can't use that space outside your home. You know, there's been studies, since the 1970s onwards on the here, Donald Appleyard’s study in San Francisco was a seminal research study on this years ago that the more traffic you have outside your home, the less likely you are to, to use that outdoor space to get to know your neighbours. You have fewer acquaintances and fewer people, you know, in the street. You retreat to the back of your house and live your life indoors, you know, away from your neighbours and away from everyone else. And that, of course, you know, perhaps that's not quite such an issue when you're young and fit and can get in your car and drive to work, drive to do your leisure. You know, elsewhere across the country. But you know, in later life, you're spending more time possibly at home, more likely to be retired from work or working part time, more likely to be back in your community. You want that community to be rich, and to be full of interesting characters. And, you know, you want to be part of that. And you can't if there's nobody in it, and everybody's, you know, driving their cars to somewhere else all the time.
DR: Mm hmm. That makes sense. Sophie, so the research in your book, Creating Spaces for an Ageing Society: the role of critical social infrastructure, you look at the role of shared social spaces, how can we use social infrastructure to build local neighbourhoods that are supportive of the social relationships we need later in life?
SY: Well, one of the things that I go through in my book is looking at what we mean by social relationships and social connections, and to try and pull this apart a bit. And Charles has already mentioned the concept of social capital, which I used to do that, then quite often when we talk about older people and social isolation and loneliness and needing to make connections is talked about in a quite a straightforward way of people just needing to get out and make friends. I think there's a lot more to it than that. And I think that kind of oversimplifies it a bit. So, I start by thinking about the different types of social connections that we have through this concept of social capital. I think about bonding and bridging capitals to a lot of people will be familiar with. So bonding capitalist something kind of relationship or connection that you have with somebody that you share something in common with that you have a common bond of some description. So, the kind of most obvious example of that is the social capital relations you might have with somebody of the same religious faith as you. You're going to the same church, for example, and you share that in common. So as much as there will be differences between the two of you that the capital that holds you together is based around that. And then there's bridging capital, which has connections with people outside of your typical social circles, or someone who has something quite different to you. So intergenerational intercultural capital is a strong example of that. And then within that, we have this idea of strong and weak ties. And I might talk a bit about later. So strong ties is kind of ties or connections of friendship, where there's some sort of effect maintenance towards the relationship and some sort of obligation towards maintaining that relationship. And it's coming from and then weak ties, which is kind of what Charles has talked about round acquaintances or kind of people that you may be familiar with. You might recognize them, you might just kind of see them in passing, and know that they live in your local area. So, I think it's important that we think about the different types of social connections. And then from that, I was starting to think about or look at the research around what different types of social infrastructure, what different spaces are good for supporting different types of social connections. So, I was looking at literature around parks, for example, and thinking about how parks can be really helpful for developing the kind of connections that Charles has been talking about when people walk in terms of seeing familiar faces, and kind of being around people who are different from them. They don't know them, they don't maybe talk to them necessarily, but they kind of bumped up against them, or rub up against them. And that kind of literal or figurative sense. So this is kind of how I start to think about these spaces of social infrastructure, supporting social connections in the community and thinking about what different types of connections might be important.
DR: All right, well, in both of your work, you discuss the importance of social capital and infrastructure and improving the mobility of an aging population. So how important is social interaction and support for developing social relationships in later life looking specifically at older people?
SY: Well, there's a lot of evidence to show that older people tend to spend more time in their local communities than other age groups. So, from the get go, that kind of immediate environment on your doorstep and a few streets over and around your local high street becomes increasingly important as you become older. And again, as Charles has talked about, this idea of walking and slowing things down, I think is a really interesting one to start to think about how older people relate to their neighbourhood environments. They called us in terms of making sure that that environment is supportive on people's doorsteps be able to use those spaces for social connections and being being visible in their communities as well. I think, I think, again, that's something that is related to the warning sign of older people crossing the road, it's kind of making sure that older people are seen to be visible in the communities, not just as older people, but as active, vital members of the community that are still contributing, are still kind of involved in social and civic life with their communities as well.
DR: Well, Charles, in your work, you focus on older people's experience of the built environment as pedestrians. What barriers to mobility do you identify in your research? And how do you think we can overcome these?
CM: Yeah, I mean, what gets talked about a lot in research I've done with older people, and you know, what are the barriers to getting out and about. What comes out when you first talk to them and comes out time and time again, is those very, what we might call in infrastructure type barriers, so not having a pavement to get yourself out and about on that safe and secure away from traffic that's in good condition, free from clutter, well maintained, and actually connects you to places that that you want to go. And within that, possibly having benches, having facilities like toilets and things like that in the in the built environment. As you move further away, is all really important. And you know, that comes out time and time again, across lots of different places, slightly different emphasis in different places on different parts of that infrastructure. But you've got to have something in order to be able to get from A to B in the first instance. But actually, you know, when you talk to people in in more detail, there's all these other elements that come out. And that's, that's what led me to think, to try and categorize some of these in different ways. So, I'm reading Sophie's work and the stuff she's done around, you know, the social infrastructure, if you like, is absolutely crucial. And that comes out a lot of the time when I talk to somebody, they've got to have somewhere to actually go to, to see other people to meet other people. Sometimes those people might help them get from A to B or do something. But it's also just about seeing the world go on around you. So seeing other people is really important. I did a research project for people who had no mobility, so people who couldn't get out and about and they were housebound, and stay at home and the importance of the view from the window for them. And loads of them loved it, you know, there's lots of talk about the view from the window being really important, if it's got greenery outside and watching the seasons change. And yeah, that came out from the research. But what I wasn't expecting was there was quite a lot of older people looking out their window that loved what we might call a great scene outside the window. So you know, something that might be rather mundane, ordinary, but as long as that scene had people walking past a road, or actually sometimes a busier road, as long as people were going past, it was something you know, we all like doing that perhaps at all stages of life. If we go to a coffee shop, it's that third space thing, it gets talked about. You sit there, you might not interact with anyone else, but you kind of are in an indirect way you're sitting there observing what's going on, or just feeling part of society. And that's important, important for yourself, important so that you know where you fit in relation to other people. You know, people make up stories, they, they placed themselves against other people around them all the time, compare themselves to others. And older people again, where they haven't got as much opportunity to get out and about, they're not necessarily working as much as we are in younger life, you know, those, those kinds of interactions are still important, we get opportunities to do them in younger life. And as you age and you don't get out and about too much, you don't have as many opportunities to do that. So, allowing space for social elements to go on was really important. And also I was interested what came out, especially when I've done research in different countries is the cultural difference because that underpins what infrastructure local authorities will pay for, you know, how normal it is also, in terms of culture to actually go walking you know. I'm horrified by some of the stories I get in the United Kingdom of older people saying they can't go for a walk in their local area because they look weird, you know, people would stare at them while you're going for a walk along that busy main road or it's alright as long as you've got a dog, that seems to be okay take a dog for what they've got a prop, something, some reason for going or you've, you know, you're going to the local shop to pick up your paper, newspaper in the UK, that's often seen as a legitimate reason, but just going out for a walk. You can walk again if the area is beautiful, but just going for a walk in their local area was seen as culturally, you know, unusual and you know, because they weren't, they didn't have a purpose. Yeah, yeah, just for what, for no reason. Older people, some of them I work with said they quite like to just go for a walk but didn't really feel they could. It wasn't quite the done thing, if you know what I mean. So, they stay at home instead.
DR: Well, you know, something I want to ask you was how does our relationship to place change over time as we get older, you know, that that we're visiting the same places are inhabiting the same spaces, but how does that change as we get older?
SY: There’s a lot of evidence and literature to say how important social infrastructure is for instilling a sense of pride in place and pride in where people live and people wanting to feel connected to the place in which they live. And a lot of that can sometimes be around history and be around memory. Certainly for older people, the fact that they have some sense of, of course, this inside and this is something of insight or biography to these places that these places mean something to them, they may have some sort of history or kind of biographical significance attached to them.
CM: I totally agree. It really reminds me of some research I did with people who sort of early stages of dementia still living at home, still being very independent and getting out and about in Swansea City Centre and getting them to tell me how they navigated their way around places. And how they talk very much about buildings in the sense of the subjective meaning of the buildings to them, rather than, you know, how they were objectively called. And, you know, it made me think that's how we perhaps all navigate ourselves around, although we don't always have to articulate it in that kind of way. Or we can see multi layers to these places, but they were talking about, they knew where they were in certain parts because of things in the past. So, they'd stand next to a building and they'd say, Well, this is the Woolworth Building. It hasn't been Woolworth’s since, what, 2003, 2004, or something like that in the UK when it closed, but that's still how they call that building, you know, 15 years later, and there was older people I worked with who would say, Well, I know where I am when I reached that place because that used to be the cinema. That's where I had my first kiss with who ended up being my husband. So that's really, really important to me. And it's a real shame that they closed it down. But I know that that's the theatre and still call it that now. And you know, it doesn't always have to be a significant event as that some people talk about their, you know, a place where they first worked or round the corners, where they were, their school wasn't and things like that. So, there's that very subjective layer to help people connect to things and of course, in older people that's built up over years and has those multi-faceted layers to it. So, I suppose as a caveat to what I said earlier, in terms of aesthetics, and beauty being important. On top of that, there's also that connection to place being important, and some of those places could be quite dull or ordinary beauties in the eye of the beholder, isn't it. So, people connect into those spaces, see them as beautiful, but you know, planners don't always see them as being very important, easy to knock down easy to get rid of. And that's a real expense to how people feel they connect to those spaces. And I think that happens, you know, going back to Sophie's earlier point at the start, that often happens in regeneration of areas. You get rid of what you think is a really ugly falling down, unloved building, but that is part of the place. And that means a big deal to the people who've always lived there, or that's, you know, how they connect to that space. And you put in, you know, a modern, what they think looks a beautiful building, and it feels totally out of place for the people living there or who've lived there a long time. And people end up feeling very excluded from such locations, you know, and sometimes not deliberately done by planners, although sometimes perhaps their stories that they are, but it's just the way people connect to stuff.
SY: And I think there's something around this idea of that the meaning of place, sometimes becoming or superseding the design of the place or the intention of the place. I know architecture research kind of looks into this a lot and Charles was talking about earlier about sometimes people don't always like spaces, which are very overly planned or overly architecture in terms of sometimes it's the informality of spaces that can kind of lead to more spontaneous social interactions. And sometimes it's having that almost blank canvas of a space and allow people to appropriate and use it the way they see fit. And the way makes sense for them. As opposed to having a very set kind of structure or designation of how to use a spacer to kind of exclude some people. I think that applies to older people, particularly as a group of feeling excluded from spaces that they feel they are not going to act in the way that they are expected to act in that space. And when I was reviewing literature around commercial spaces, and the book was looking at things like restaurants and pubs and coffee shops and things like that, a lot of the research was quite divided in looking at chain restaurants or chain cafes versus more independent establishments. And I think a social scientist, you'd almost automatically assume that independent cafes, for example, might be more age friendliness, and the fact that they might be more amenable to making adaptations for older people that might welcome them in more than maybe not as focused on profit. They may be more locally orientated. So, they might be more age friendly in that sense. And that, of course, could be the case. But what a lot of the research found, though, is that some older people were more drawn to the chain restaurants and the kind of more corporate spaces, particularly because they were homogenous, and they were the same everywhere. They were at almost a blank canvas. They felt that they knew how to perform, how to act and those spaces where they might feel quite intimidated by some of the independent coffee shops, particularly if it was in a more gentrified area.
DR: Well, I noticed in both of your works, you comment about how these things are closing and going away, you know, post offices closing and stores like that closing. What is the consequence of that? Where are people going instead?
SY: Well, in the case of banks and post offices is a good example. And you know, there was a mobility issue there that a lot of older people can't actually get to the next nearest bank or post office, which, you know, is a functional issue in itself. And, you know, banks and post offices aren't particularly glamorous aspects of our High Streets. So, you can kind of see why they might close and be taken over by something a bit more enticing. But they're nonetheless really important, because everybody has, to some extent, will use a bank or post office at some point in their lives, or I'm thinking of kind of more kind of service-oriented institutions like that. And more functional utility places, everybody will use those bases to some extent. So, they do draw in a diversity of people, which is really key and creating this opportunity for bridging capital, which I've talked about terms of having people from all walks of life coming into a post office or library as a similar example, at some point. So, it kind of creates the opportunity to kind of bump into people of different or people who look different to you or have a different background to you. So those spaces have a function as well as a kind of social and civic use as well.
CM: Yeah, those spaces draw people in don’t they, and people from different walks of life have to use those, those kinds of places, and they're becoming fewer and far between, but you know, civic centres in cities, and they were designed really all neatly and beautifully, at one time as the connection between the sort of city or town governance and the people in that town, you know, and you'd have to go there to eat in the old days to pay your rates and to pay fines or to challenge, you know, democracy. They were centres of democracy really, and links between the city and the people that live there. And there's other examples of that. Now, you know, like what they were saying the post office, the banks, and really, in lots of high-income countries were suffering tthese issues of shopping centres closing down in the UK, we talked about the High Street, that crisis at the High Street and things like that. But we've got to start planning based around the things we're talking about today. So, if you have some reason to come into those areas, and lots of people are coming together, you end up having to do other things while you're there. Lots of older people talk to me about, you know, going into the city centre, for one thing, to do a bit of banking or to use the post office and then staying for lunch, even meeting their friends there in the afternoon, having a bit of window shopping and making a day of it. But if you start creating, I don't know, this sort of like mono-cultural places really, or mono-architecture where you've got the town tend to get spread out. So, you end up with these out-of-town shopping centres, or you end up with a hospital at the edge of the city, you end up with a freebie post office in one area, but nothing around it. People drive there, do their business and then come home. Again, there's no spill-over effect of that, you know, I think the private car and the use of it has contributed massively to that, you know. One of those seminal moments was doing some research in the valleys in Wales years ago in a place called Tonypandy with some older people and asking them really about their views on road pricing in Cardiff, which again, these were people from sort of lower socio-economic backgrounds, and you'd think they'd be really against having any form of road pricing. But they really loved the idea of it because they were fed up with their town, which was sort of 20 miles away from Cardiff that become what they called a dormitory town. So, what had happened was because it's quite cheap housing, lots of families have moved in there, lots of individuals have moved there, but which should be really good and should be encouraged. But they do all their business, all their shopping, and all their activity in and around the city itself. So, they might be doing some in Cardiff, but they might work in Cardiff, they go to the leisure centre on the edge of Cardiff. They go to the out town shopping centre over the other side of Cardiff. And then they come back to Tonypandy in the valleys just to sleep. And these old people brought brilliant pictures of how the community used to be in the old days, with cafes, with schools, all of which had closed and they're saying, Well, look, you know, this is it's really the road between there and into Cardiff had decimated their community. It completely changed the fabric of it and they'd reduced this huge amount of social capital if you like and huge amount of feeling of community which had just disappeared altogether. You know, that's such a shame. And I hoped, you know, if something really good had come out of hideousness that the Coronavirus was and you know, people spending more time close to home and potentially not going back into the office so much it will be a reawakening of how important your local community was. And people wanting to spend more time in their local community. But it looks like people couldn't wait, or at least our government, our overlords couldn't wait for us to get back into the office as soon as possible and, and, you know, go back to business as usual as soon as possible, having learned nothing from the situation.
DR: That's actually what I really wanted to ask you next was how COVID, you know, it's obviously disrupted our lives incredibly, but how it's changed our relationship to space and place and if that's a permanent change.
SY: I do wonder just based on what Charles was saying about whether we will all now kind of more, appreciate more the communities we have on our doorstep, and be more kind of locally focused and supporting local businesses and kind of walking more, which will be wonderful. However, if that only benefits those who are privileged enough to be able to choose where they live, then that will have the opposite effect of people choosing to live in very well-resourced community orientated places can afford to buy there, and then what happens to the places which are left behind. So, I think that needs to be matched by a commitment from government planning, etc, to kind of invest in the neighbourhoods which have already been left behind in the UK quite significantly, by cuts, cuts to public services, and then also kind of reductions in High Street footfall because of lower income and people's homes, etc. So, it will be wonderful if something that comes out of the pandemic is a kind of reaffirmation of kind of real local living and making sure that we have we kind of really rooted in our communities, we have strong social support networks, and their social infrastructure to support that. But we're not starting from an even playing field on that, that's huge geographical disparities between those communities which already have great social infrastructure and those which haven't ever have, and have had it decimated over decades. So, we need to recognize we're not starting from an even playing field, and to kind of have investment from the top down as well as going to commitment or kind of rethinking of how we live our lives from the bottom up, I think, as well, our city planners thinking about these things.
DR: I mean, I'm wondering, you know, we're talking about how we want these things to change, we want to create and build community. I mean, on a concrete level, are there people that are making plans for this are they hearing what you're saying?
SY: I mean, I would hope so. But I would think based on kind of what's been happening in the UK, for, you know, over the last decade, etc, in terms of cuts, to local hydrates, and coastal local services, it would take an awful lot to undo the damage that's already been done before COVID, I would say.
CM: Yeah, and we still, you know, plan from kind of like the top down. And that's, that's been a problem for, for years, you know, this sort of modernist approach and very functional approach that you’re kind of doing helicopter planning. So, you look down, you don't look at what the people are doing, or what they could do on the streets and how they live their lives. We're doing it in these great big master plans, trying to get significant investment into the area in the hope that it will, you know, make a huge difference to improving the lives of the people there. And it just seems almost like the wrong way around. We need to do much more community work of CO development and CO production with people on the ground and getting to understand what it is they really like doing and what works well and what doesn't, and then build our cities that way around or build up, you know. Plan towns and cities that way around, and we're still not doing it, we're still doing it these great big, I mean, there's a local master plan to me about regional development. And it's something like 600 pages long. And it's all about huge new student flats for young couples or young single people in the city centre and getting investment in that area, as well as a great big new sort of city show ground and hotel and things like that. And despite the area having a significant proportion of older people in their aging is mentioned once in the 600-page document and it's just to set the scene at the start. There's nothing about planning that environment with an ageing society in mind about you know, if we have, if we're going to build these flats, how do we make sure they're future proofed for older people, so somebody can stay there for their whole life. Or you could make some older people moving in with younger people in these areas, all of it just isn't joined up. It's all just done around what they think investors will want, which is often you know, young, cool, sexy tech people, and not necessarily who really are the cool people which is, which is all of us as we age.
SY: And I think a lot of the drive from the UK Government to get us all back working in our offices getting us back in the city centre. It's been obviously around kind of supporting the economy. And there's been a lot of discussion, particularly before Christmas, about supporting the hospitality sector in particular as of space of which I've been really like hard hit by closures and the lockdowns, etc. And you know, whilst I fully support those sectors and those industries being supported, it's the discussion the narrative is still all from an economic point of view it those spaces are not talked about by government has been important for the social economy as well. The fact that the local pub is sometimes the only place where an older man or an older woman will see anyone or the local shop is for example, the emphasis is very much on getting the economy back up and running, but less so than the social economy.
DR: That does fall into my last question about looking to the future. You know, we've been so disrupted by COVID, and then trying to get back to normal and then you know, the push to get the economy going again. But I'm wondering what you think society should do in the future to create a positive environment for its citizens to age in.
SY: I think first and foremost, older people need to be more fully involved in conversations about their communities and what they want for the community, is what they need from their communities and be involved in not just a kind of consultation phase, but involved all the way through and thinking about what do people actually need to be able to age in place or to make a place supportive for older people in the long run. We've touched on this already, but we need to take seriously and recognize people's attachments that they have to the spaces and their communities, even if it is the local Chip Shop, which you know, doesn't really stand up very well in public health arguments necessarily. But if that is an important space for someone socially that is really important for their health and welfare to an extent. So, I think we need to kind of, you know, be much more open minded, I think about the spaces that are important, older people. And sometimes it is I feel a little bit around a bit of snobbishness about people not wanting to recognize that maybe a Wetherspoons Pub or Costa Coffee Shop is a really important space for people. And maybe being a bit more open minded about the diversity of social infrastructure that we have, particularly in gentrifying neighbourhoods or neighbourhoods which are undergoing a lot of urban change, the urban planners need to be mindful of that making sure we have an ecosystem of the different types of spaces. So, we have things like post offices and banks, as well as really nice cafes and restaurants, and pubs, etc. I think, you know, the kind of diversity needs to be recognized much more as, as we've said, older people are not a homogenous group. So, every older person will have space, different spaces, which are important to them and their social and their well-being needs. So, recognizing there's a diversity of need within the community, and that we need a diversity of spaces to kind of attend to those needs.
CM: I think I'd totally agree with that. You know, and going back to where I started, you know, I want to, I'd like to see much more slow mobility happening. I want people to slow down, people to enjoy getting out and about in a slow kind of way, walking more, cycling more like we said, that not only improves health, but it improves neighbourhood communities, society. We go from place to place at the moment from our private home through our private vehicle to work without, you know, thinking about those spaces and places that we move between, forgetting our own local neighbourhood and our community. A lot of the time we need to get back out and walk in those local areas making us think about the areas as you know, theorists have talked about before, you know. Walking makes the area thick, thick with numbers of people but also thick with meaning, thick with tolerance and understanding of other people. Going back to Sophie's work as well, you know, it's thick with social capital and social bonding, if you like, and bringing people together. We, you know, bump into each other. There's that idea that we might get to know somebody who's a bit different to ourselves, you know, and I think that's really important to remember. So, it's almost like the very antipathy of things like, you know, great big motorway, building an HS two and things like that. We've got to slow down and enjoy our journeys. Again, enjoy what's around us and our local areas and our local neighbourhood. You know, something Sophie's pointed out that area has already been decimated so much that it doesn't, it's not a space that people want to frequent or be part of and that's where we need to mobilize local communities to get involved in redesigning and reinventing their local areas again, so giving people some ownership and some control over their local neighbourhood and community rather than allowing it to those planners who've got that helicopter perspective or regional perspective to something to gain people much more down at the grassroots level, if you'd like, to co-produce and co-develop these areas, I think is the is the way forward.
DR: Wow! This is a really interesting conversation. I really appreciate you both coming and joining me today.
SY: Yeah, welcome. I enjoyed it.
CM: Thank you. Yeah. Great.
DR: Thank you for listening to today's episode. You can find a transcript of our conversation on our website, as well as more information about our guests and a link to their books. I'd like to thank Katie Mathers for her help with today's episode. And Alex Jungius of this is distorted
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