Cities. Are they safe for our elders?

Edition #4: How safety decides the place we live

How many of you have thought about safety as an important factor in deciding your place of living?

Is the city safe?

Is the neighbourhood safe?

Is it safe for my kids?

Is it safe for my parents?

Is it safe at night?

Is it worth relocating to an unsafe city?

These are questions we ask for ourselves and our families that live away from us.

In most cases, the eventual decision of your place of residence is made basis word-of-mouth experiences, convenience, anecdotal data and how well you are convinced by the builder or the broker. And, of course the budget and affordability. While finding a place has become easier with online sites and social media groups (like “flats with no brokers”), there is very little information to actually know if the place is ‘safe’. Much of this is also due to lack of accessible information at a neighbourhood level.

At a global level, the Economist publishes the annual Safe Cities Index that ranks 60 countries worldwide on multi-faced indicators like digital, infrastructure, health and personal security. If you are curious, New Delhi and Mumbai were ranked 45 and 51 while Tokyo and Singapore topped the global rankings. I am sure many are thinking, this is an American magazine, and they do not understand India. Be that as it may, this is one way to think of it, and moreover, we love rankings in this country.

The Annual Survey of India’s City Systems (ASICS) by Janaagraha, a Bangalore-based non-profit, provides independent benchmarking of Indian cities with a focus on quality of living. Smaller initiatives like Safecity were started with a focus on ‘making cities safer by encouraging equal access to public spaces for everyone especially women’, due to increasing sexual violence against women.

The HelpAge report, “Ageing and the city: making urban spaces work for older people” is a highly recommended read. It highlights systematic social, economic and spatial marginalisation and exclusion of older persons in cities, and how this is impacting their lives. HelpAge India, setup in India in 1978, offers a suite of welfare and development programs catering to elders in multiple states in India.

For many of us that live in an urban environment, safety of the family is largely associated with controlled spaces and secondary support structures like good neighbours and reliable services.

Real estate players have captured this need and today offer safe gated communities with a suite of accessible services for all age groups. Senior housing and assisted living communities are on the rise however, these affect only a few due to the nature of these projects (controlled spaces, away from cities and expensive) whereas the majority of seniors reside and navigate cities independently, and with the support of family. A lot of elders that I speak to mention how they wish to live in the same house till their last years as there is

a certain familiarity and routine associated with it, something they are unwilling to trade for higher quality of living unless it is the only option.

They like to live safely within a city.

Regardless of where they chose to live, we could make it dignified, joyful and fun for them. That is exactly what a bunch of people are doing across India.

The Senior Citizens’ Group of Besant Nagar in Chennai is an informal network of elders that share Gandhian values. They organize among themselves to make the society better for everybody.

The Silver Surfers Club in Bangalore has a created an array of programs for people over 55 to live an active, fulfilling and dignified life. This bunch loves to party and travel.

The Adhata Trust based started by Arun Nanda of the Mahindra Group, launched its 10th community center in Mumbai with a focus on ensuring psychosocial welfare of senior citizens.

The Samarth community based in Delhi has a mission to bring peace of mind to elderly and their families in India.

You may have also read this news article about how five high school girls won a global contest for developing a mobile app to connect senior citizens and their children.

These are just some initiatives that give you a glimpse of the work that is happening around you. With a little effort, you will find many more of these in your own neighborhoods and parks.

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