Dr Anna Lane is a lifespan developmental psychologist and gerontologist with a general research interest that focuses on better understanding the psychological, social and environmental predictors of healthy ageing. Currently, she is a Research Fellow with the Lee Li Ming Programme in Ageing Urbanism at LKYCIC. She is involved in a large scale, multidisciplinary project to examine the role of the built and social neighbourhood environments in shaping health and wellbeing among older Singaporeans, and is evaluating early implementation progress of the dementia-friendly communities concept in Singapore.
Design for Active Ageing – Walkability and the Built Environment
A growing body of research shows that the design of buildings and neighborhoods can have a significant impact on their inhabitants’ physical activity levels. The field of active design explores the practice of embedding design cues into the built environment that encourage more active behaviors, such as walking longer distances or using the stairs instead of the lift. In recent years, Singapore has invested considerable efforts in curating social and physical environments that are age-friendly, and thus allow for the prolonged mobility and health of its older residents. Much work has gone into the provision of universal designs and large-scale infrastructure to improve accessibility at the neighborhood scale and city-wide scale.
To add to this dialog, this research focuses on accessibility at the block-scale, taking into account the design and behavioural preferences of the older population in a small geographic area. The study asks the following questions: first, what are the barriers that inhibit walking for older residents in the study site, and second, are simple design interventions able to promote walking at the block scale? The study zooms in on 8 residential blocks in the neighborhood of Bukit Panjang and employs a mixed-methods, qualitative research approach, which includes surveys, interviews, participant observation, as well as focus groups and design workshops. The research is conducted with a emphasis on developing small-scale, implementable design interventions that respond to the physiological and psychological needs of the ageing population, which can be used to supplement larger, more traditional infrastructure investments such as barrier-free access.
Key findings from the research show that other than physical elements, social and psychological factors play a crucial role in defining the walking habits of older adults. Older adults desire a sense of joy, security and sociality in their daily experience and dealings within their neighborhood. By focusing on these needs, planners and designers can better promote walking as an activity for health and leisure, rather than just as a means of transportation. While large-scale infrastructure such as barrier-free access are necessary for a pleasant walking experience, it is equally important to improve the fine grained, human scale designs in the neighborhood, such as elements of way-finding and visual interest. From these findings, the study provides design and policy recommendations and hopes to shed light on the potential of small-scale interventions that can bring about incremental changes in promoting active ageing and age-friendly neighborhoods.