Tallinn University of Technology

The number of elderly with an active lifestyle who expect more from their living environment is increasing. According to the recently completed research paper of Sirle Salmistu, postdoctoral researcher at the Tartu College of TalTech, the first step towards a more inclusive environment could be a simple bench on the street.

pink linn elukvaliteet
photo: Pixabay

As the local municipalities are in charge of most of the aspects concerning the life of the elderly in Estonia, it leads to large discrepancies in the opportunities offered by villages, towns, and cities. The physical urban space also has a lot of room for development. ‘The youth and children have always been very important in city planning, while the elderly population is often of secondary concern,’ said Salmistu, a postdoctoral researcher at Tartu College and also a landscape architect in her daily profession, to the scientific portal Novaator.

‘This has also inspired my research and the research project.’ Over the last few years, she has studied factors that influence designing a suitable environment for the elderly in Estonia. Salmistu also participated in preparing the vision document ‘Age-Friendly Tartu 2030’ (‘Eakasõbralik Tartu 2030’) of the city of Tartu. Her most important message is that an individual should be able to cope independently at home and in their neighbourhood during their entire life span.

Several focus group interviews were conducted for preparing the ‘Age-Friendly Tartu 2030’ document. The elderly had a chance to express their concerns and describe the changes that they would like to see in urban space. As it turns out, public spaces do not always support accessibility to services and events. The second area of concern was the uneven distribution of benches and other options for resting for pedestrians in the urban environment. The suggestion of Salmistu to add 50–100 benches to the city environment won the inclusive budget vote of the city of Tartu this year. ‘I believe that a single bench can change someone’s quality of life,’ the postdoctoral researcher explained.

This article was published in the Novaator science portal.