European societies are increasingly called for to find solutions for and maintain a more balanced regional development and sustainable economic growth and recovery, despite or because of the ageing populations.
Population growth in the EU will slow down considerably and start to decline after 2025. By 2050, there will be 48 million fewer 15-64 year old people and 58 million more above 65. A shrinking labour force will potentially reduce overall employment and act as a break on growth. EU population will account for 6.4% of the world’s population in 2020 and 5.2% in 2050 compared to 7.5% in 2005. Between 2005 and 2050, half of the increase in the world population will be accounted for by a rise in the population aged 60 years or above, whereas the share of population under age 15 will decline from 28% in 2005 to 20% in 2050. Consequently, by 2050, the percentage of global elderly population is expected to double from 11% (in 2010) to 22%. What is more, 19 out of the 20 countries worldwide with the oldest populations on Earth will be located in Europe! As a result of declining fertility and increasing longevity, a growing number of countries are rapidly ageing.
Today, globally more people live in urban areas than in rural areas. In 2007-2008, for the first time in history, the global urban population exceeded the global rural population. In 2014, 54% of the world’s population resided in urban areas, as opposed to 30% in 1950 while by 2050, 66% of the world’s population is projected to be urban. This transition from rural to urban living is expected to continue (European Commission/Regional Policy, "Cities of Tomorrow: Challenges, visions, ways forward", October 2011). The interplay of dynamic population and urbanisation has great effects on both urban planning and protection of human rights. Studies have shown the great impact of urban planning on the implementation of health and social policies (WHO, Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide, 2007). However, these studies rarely investigate how planning of building and urban areas prevents the violation of positive human rights (for example reducing financial and criminal abuses of elderly, improving the right of freedom, right of health and right of food etc.) and allows older people to contribute to the economic growth of their cities.
Integrating sustainable "green" growth in the debate
Urbanisation, ageing population, and the ongoing challenge to achieve sustainable, “green” growth greatly influence and facilitate one another, having significant effects on today’s policy and economic development. Up to this moment, solutions provided in urban contexts are often not working, due to lack of understanding of both the social process underlying urban trends, as well as the needs of the ever increasing ageing population.
Creating pathways to better understand how the relationship between demographic changes and environmental friendly growth in urban settings can best work in order to realise and build liveable and more efficient communities in Europe, will eventually highly contribute to the creation of new knowledge in one of the most critical “Societal Challenges” across Europe, i.e. elderly needs within urban areas.