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Urban Age Labs – co-creating innovations to address urgent challenges facing vulnerable older people in low income urban communities

Effective community-based, zero/low cost interventions that address critical challenges facing older people in Latin America

Photo of Sion Jones
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

The project will bring together students, academics, professionals and intergenerational community members to co-create human-centred low and/or zero cost interventions to that address the most urgent challenges faced by older people living in insecure, low income and informal urban communities. Urban populations are ageing globally with Latin American cities alone home to more than 57 million older people. Low income communities in cities such as Bogota and Rio struggle due to insecurity and gang related crime. Innovative and affordable, human-centred and community designed and owned interventions can ensure urban spaces are safe and secure for all, including older people who are often powerless and excluded. Following a deep listening exercise, co-creation workshops will look at local context specific issues in each community. Urgent and critical issues that need to be addressed include a lack of physical mobility (around the neighbourhood) and a sense of safety and security, both of which can force older people to stay at home, keeping them from help they need and further isolating them from their communities. These issues are compounded in cases where older people are struggling with cognitive impairments such as dementia. Students, academics and professionals from urban design and architecture disciplines will work with existing civil society organisations and community members to develop new and innovative low and zero cost solutions that address these urgent challenges. Ideas could include enhancements to the physical built environment, improving access to vital existing services, or the use of technology to connect communities or provide emergency response mechanisms. The best ideas will be provided with small grants to rapidly prototype and test the idea within and alongside the community. Successes and lessons learned will be shared across the project and more widely to encourage similar initiatives.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Residents of low income and informal communities in large cities in Latin America. Civil society partners will be identified and project sites selected in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Bogota and Mexico City - home to millions of older people living in insecure, informal and income poor communities. Interventions will be low cost, easy to implement and high impact - delivering real and tangible solutions that address the most urgent issues older people are facing in these cities. . More broadly, all community residents will benefit from improved inter-generational dialogue and understanding (promoting peace and community cohesion), interventions that will improve the public realm for all, and newly established relationships between the community, existing civil society organisations and academic and private sector partners that participated in the co-creation workshops.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

The proposed project is unique for its multi-stakeholder approach and focus on the most vulnerable older people living in informal, insecure and low income communities. The project will bring together residents - including marginalised older people - existing local civil society groups and organisations, urban design students, academics and professionals. This uniquely collaborative and cross-disciplinary approach will generate creative ideas that draw on the skills of professionals whilst addressing the urgent concerns of community residents. Intergenerational dialogue amongst residents of all ages will foster community cohesion in neighbourhoods prone to violence. A focus on older people responds to their exclusion from urban policy and planning processes - an increasingly serious issue as populations age. HelpAge has 35 years of experience working closely with older people, understanding and addressing the challenges they face, particularly within low income communities.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Initial Design: I am exploring the idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.
  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

HelpAge USA is an affiliate of HelpAge International - the only Global Network focused on improving the lives of older people and their families, ensuring they have access to health care and the income they need, that their voices are heard, and they receive the humanitarian assistance they need in times of crisis.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

HelpAge has been engaging with older people in urban communities in low and middle-income countries across Latin America, Asia and Africa. We have been listening to the challenges older people face and the significant consequences on their security, health and social connectedness. Urbanisation and ageing are defining trends, yet the issues facing millions of older people living in cities, many in low income and informal communities, are critical and being ignored by policy and decision makers.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Peace – Insecurity disrupts development and community cohesion across Latin America. Older people in Mexico City and Rio said crime makes them fearful of going outside, exacerbating social isolation and limiting access to services. Intergenerational co-creation and mutual understanding will encourage a sense of community cohesion. Prosperity – Urbanisation brings income, health and livelihood inequality. Low income communities are ignored in terms of planning and investment and rely on unique and complex social connections and resilience strategies. The project will target low income communities and older people who might be homeless, destitute or socially isolated. Planet – Urbanisation, alongside ageing, is a century defining demographic trend with a significant impact on the planet. Existing communities must be safe, prosperous and inclusive to avoid the degradation of established neighbourhoods and continued urban expansion and sprawl onto the surrounding natural environment.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

The project will uniquely bring together stakeholders in a collaborative and cross-disciplinary approach to solving problems. Community residents will be engaged in a deep listening process to understand the complexity of their experiences of urban life in their particular neighbourhood. Particular appreciation will be given to their understanding of the issues and of potential solutions. Existing civil society groups and organisations will be engaged to ensure outreach into the community through established means and to support the implementation and sustainability of the co-created interventions. Students, academics and professionals from the urban design and architecture sectors will bring their professional skills, experience and enthusiasm to help tackle the unique challenges faced by urban residents. The co-creation workshops will provide an opportunity for these diverse stakeholders to work together, better understand each other and develop innovative ideas and solutions.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Residents of informal neighbourhoods rely more heavily on social connections within families and across the community as well as innovative resilience strategies that mitigate against the ups and downs characteristic of living in insecure low-income communities. Bringing inter-generational residents together with specialists in urban design will leverage these strengths in new and innovative ways to improve community cohesion a shared understanding of the challenges people face.

Geographic Focus

In low-income communities in Latin America. Partners are already identified in Brazil and Colombia.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The project will be implemented over a 12 month period, providing time to identify project sites, secure the participation of relevant stakeholders, organise the co-creation workshop and launch rapid prototypes of the best ideas with follow up evaluations of their impact and effectiveness. During and following this period, opportunities to highlight work and share learning with other communities will be leveraged via the HelpAge Global Network of civil society organisations.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of bikash gurung

Hi Susan Riker  great to have you in the Challenge! I loved your Concept , you were able to convey important information about your project quickly and clearly, which was very helpful to someone new to your idea!

Would love to learn a little bit more about you, how you came to this solution ? How are you planning to bring prosperity to Old groups, Can you little be specific? Is this targeted to Old groups or Low income communities as well. Looking forward to learn more.

Photo of Sion Jones

Hey Bikash,

Thanks for your comments and great to hear that you like the concept! We came to this solution by working with groups of older people who live in cities, understanding that the most urgent need is in low income and insecure communities, and seeing the potential to bring other contributors - students, academics, professionals - from urban design backgrounds, together with community members to address these issues. We were inspired partly by similar work in a neighbourhood of Hong Kong where older people worked with architects to redevelop a local park in a way that addressed their most pressing needs. In relation to your question about prosperity, we aim to work in low income communities and believe strongly that inclusive, peaceful and accessible neighbourhoods bring prosperity to the entire community by strengthening the social connections and opportunities that residents rely upon. To answer your final question, we will target older people living in low income and insecure communities.

Photo of bikash gurung

Thanks for the share! Best Wishes!