Enhanced urban planning for age-friendly cities through disruptive technologies

In this project, we study opportunities of digital tools to support the planning of more age-friendly cities.

Most of the global population live in or move to cities: the UN Habitat’s World Cities Report (2020) estimates that 70% of people on Earth will live in cities by 2030.

This is, of course, mainly, a positive development: densely populated cities can contribute to lower impacts on the environment elsewhere, lay the foundation for better social embedding and care-taking, and foster citizens’ participation in the central functions of their society. Overall, cities have a better chance of providing access to the Rights to centrality, to participation, to shaping the city and urbanisation (Harvey, 2008; Lefebvre, 1968)

However, living in cities can also mean a higher risk of social isolation, especially for older people. In our increasingly urbanising world, cities’ populations are ageing: For the first time in history, more people aged 65 or older live on Earth than children under five, and the global average life expectancy has increased by more than 8 years since 1990 (United Nations, 2019).

Older people might face challenges in realising their mobility needs, despite the ubiquitous opportunities of urban mobility. Accessibility to their everyday places can be challenging for seniors, for instance, in a physical manner, when it comes to long walking distances, poor infrastructure for active modes of transport, or insufficient or inaccessible public transport. The social and psychological barriers to participating in local communities, in political and social life on an urban scale, and to asking for assistance should not be underestimated, either.

At the same time, cities, like most other aspects of our lives, have undergone tremendous technological advancements in recent decades. Today, city governments, administration, and planning use diverse sets of digital tools and create and use digital data in their daily work. The City of Helsinki is a pioneer of Urban Digital Twins (KIRA-digi, 2019; Ranta, 2021). The concept originates from engineering and, in essence, describes a computer model of a physical object that simultaneously updates itself when the physical object changes, and alters the physical object in response to changes to itself (Glaessgen and Stargel, 2012; Kritzinger et al., 2018). In the context of geographical information, it often implies detailed three-dimensional models that are easily accessible to the layperson; the bidirectional data exchange is still limited. Urban digital twins have the potential to assist city officials in making more informed decisions.

In the H2020 project URBANAGE, together with 13 partners from Spain, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Great Britain, and Finland, researchers at the Digital Geography Lab try to assess how city planners could use such an Urban Digital Twin to improve older citizens’ accessibility. In three case studies, the region Flanders (Belgium) and the cities Santander (Spain) and Helsinki (Finland), a new digital twin infrastructure will be developed, or an existing one evaluated. The research strives to co-create knowledge with city planners and older people.


From DGL’s side, the following people are involved in URBANAGE:


URBANAGE is a H2020 project, funded by the European Research Council (grant agreement 101004590)

Glaessgen, E., Stargel, D., 2012. The Digital Twin Paradigm for Future NASA and U.S. Air Force Vehicles. DOI:10.2514/6.2012-1818

Harvey, D., 2008. The Right to the City. New Left Review 23–40.

KIRA-digi, 2019. Kalasataman digitaaliset kaksoset. KIRA-digi-kokeiluhankkeen loppuraportti. Helsinki.

Kritzinger, W., Karner, M., Traar, G., Henjes, J., Sihn, W., 2018. Digital Twin in manufacturing: A categorical literature review and classification. DOI:10.1016/j.ifacol.2018.08.474

Lefebvre, H., 1968. La droite à la ville I, Société et urbanisme. Éditions Anthropos, Paris.

Ranta, E., 2021. Kohti Suomen digitaalista kaksosta. Positio.

UN Habitat, 2020. World Cities Report 2020.

United Nations, 2019. World population prospects 2019: Highlights.