Access outdoors and quality of life in an ageing demographic

Catharine Ward Thompson, Susana Alves, Peter Aspinall, Jenny Roe

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


There is a growing body of literature suggesting that access outdoors and use of public spaces in the local neighbourhood plays an important role for older people in maintaining and enhancing their quality of life (Sugiyama et al., 2009). In the context of increasing urbanisation and demographic change across Europe, it is important to know whether current policies for designing and renewing neighbourhood environments, especially where there are currently high levels of deprivation, provide appropriate support for an ageing population. Yet older people’s needs are often poorly researched in relation to urban regeneration initiatives. This paper describes findings from the first phase of a study to understand what kind of access outdoors older people have in deprived urban areas in the UK, what their experiences are, how this impacts on their quality of life, and how new policies for environmental change to such residential streets and neighbourhoods might make a difference.

The current vision of urban regeneration is generally one where greater priority is given to pedestrians in public streets and squares. In the UK, the concept of Home Zones (originating in the Netherlands as ‘woonerf’) has been promoted in the last decade by government policies to create areas where pedestrians, cyclists and local residents’ needs are prioritised and where quality of life takes precedence over ease of traffic movement (IHIE, 2002; DfT 2005). It has been claimed that Home Zones will, inter alia, encourage a greater diversity of activity and use of the street by residents, reduce social isolation, particularly among older people, and encourage people to walk and cycle within their local environment but, as yet, much of the evidence to support this is anecdotal. There is very little evidence on the impact of such environmental interventions for older people, and some concern that such schemes may be disorientating and have negative as well as positive impacts on their access outdoors.

This paper presents the initial analysis of interview data from 102 participants aged 65 and older from 9 different urban sites across mainland UK, where Home Zone type interventions to residential streets have been planned, all but one of which are in areas of high multiple deprivation. Ultimately, the study will examine the impact of the environmental interventions on older people’s outdoor activity, experience and quality of life. The data to date explore the baseline experience in existing urban contexts. The interview questionnaires included sections to elicit information on:
a) Personal projects involving outdoor activities – what kinds of activities people prefer to undertake, where, and how they evaluate them
b) Perceptions of the environment in relation to outdoor spaces around the home, local streets, and the neighbourhood in general.
c) Quality of life and self-rated health, using previously validated and tested scales, including CASP 19 and EUROQOL
d) Frequency of getting outdoors in summer and winter months.

The findings will contribute to knowledge on the attributes of local streets and neighbourhoods that have an impact on older people’s use and experience on a day-to-day basis, and the way that such places are perceived and used in relation to overall quality of life.

DfT (Department for Transport) (2005) Home Zones. Challenging the future of our streets. London: DfT
IHIE (2002) Home Zone Design Guidelines. The Institute of Highway Incorporated Engineers.
Sugiyama, T., Ward Thompson, C. and Alves, S. (2009) Associations between neighborhood open space attributes and quality of life for older people in Britain. Environment and Behavior, 41(1), 3-21
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2010
Event21st IAPS Conference: Vulnerability, Risk and Complexity: Impacts of Global Change on Human Habitats - Leipzig, Germany
Duration: 27 Jun 20102 Jul 2010


Conference21st IAPS Conference: Vulnerability, Risk and Complexity: Impacts of Global Change on Human Habitats


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