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How can a critical approach to the demographics of ageing better support city planning?

“City planners are demographic data-dependent” | Oslo 17th of May – by Gustavo Sugahara

Demographic data such as age, gender, and income, is perhaps the single most important source of information for city planners. As ageing in urban settlement emerges as a global demographic trend, a better understanding of the importance and limitations of demographics should be placed at the top of researchers’ list of priorities.

City planners are demographic data-dependent. That is, they rely on the composition of the neighborhoods and regions to make their decisions. To illustrate the importance of basic population information as the core facet of any city’s decisions, we can simply remember that most of a city’s standards are expressed in terms of population: The number of students per classroom, the number of trash bins by resident, and so forth.

Complex statistical models and forecast instruments can now be precisely tailored to a city’s needs. More than ever, planners have relatively easy access to very detailed information about the population they work for. Further, if data is available, the cost of computing power is no longer an excuse to prioritize more important country-level analyses.

Despite the phenomenal technical developments brought by the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) revolution city planners frequently forget to ask themselves an important question: What are the limitations of demographic knowledge?

Due to its empirical nature, demographic information is often regarded as a technical and indisputable tool to inform policymaking. However, when it comes to the demographics of ageing, a poorly equipped planner might easily fall back on the shortsighted ‘frail-elder’ stereotype whereby older persons are regarded as ‘sick’, ‘ill’ or ‘dependent’. I believe Critical Gerontology has an important role to play here.

Building bridges with other disciplines, such as city planning, in this case, is fundamental to advancing scholarship and informing practices that are (and will be) carried out in our cities and regions. It is up to critical gerontologists to assist with the interpretation of this valuable data, provide information on future needs, all whilst recognizing the importance and limitations of chronological age, and the fundamental contribution of demographics.

Using the city of Oslo as a case study, my recent article engages with the demographics of ageing from a critical point of view. I present a few examples of what a critical approach to demographics of ageing would look like. Focusing on a ‘simple question’ – is Oslo getting older? – I show how the combination of different methods can reach behind simple questions of age in order to highlight the diversity among older people, and provide a more complex and accurate answer that considers what aging may mean for the population and needs of the city.

The complete study is available here.

This article was originally published at

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