Faced with one of the fastest-aging populations in Asia, the Singapore government increasingly has been asking how can our built environment support this silver generation?
The answer, when put simply, is greater accessibility. But creating an accessible and inclusive built environment is unlike installing plug-and-play equipment. It takes time and effort to incorporate user-friendly features in buildings.
By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 years or above, according to the Ministry of Health. By building an urban area that allows people with varying degrees of mobility to move around with ease, it will help maintain a successful “aging-in-place” lifestyle. This means seniors can maintain essential links to family, friends and the wider community, while also maintaining independence in a more inclusive society.
Upgrading basic accessibility in existing buildings will also have an impact on economic prosperity. Market research firm Euromonitor predicts the global spending power of consumers aged 60 and older will hit US$15 trillion by 2020. With active aging being encouraged, we can expect more seniors to be out and about more frequently. Accessible buildings can attract more visitors, and by extension, higher revenues.
Singapore’s ongoing efforts
Efforts to improve accessibility are well underway. Singapore is among the cities highlighted as leading the way in creating a disability-accessible city. We also won praise from the U.N. in 2016 for our accessible “user-friendly built environment”.
But while newer and upgraded buildings have achieved at least basic accessibility, a large stock of buildings, constructed before the mandatory Code on Barrier-Free Accessibility in Buildings came into force, still need work.
The code is not only applicable to developments built after 1990, but also to existing areas in pre-1990 buildings undergoing extensive alteration works. In recent years, it has undergone periodic reviews to ensure its provisions are benchmarked against international standards and meet the evolving needs of Singapore’s population.
Financial support is available for building owners who wish to upgrade basic accessibility in existing non-barrier free private buildings built before 1990 through the Accessibility Fund.
BCA is currently consulting stakeholders on introducing requirements on basic accessibility for existing commercial and institutional buildings frequented by the public but are not barrier-free.
Other initiatives are also in place. Due to the increasing number of people with varying degree of abilities and advancing years, and their desire for independent living, as well as the needs of younger families, we encourage buildings to move beyond code compliance towards Universal Design (UD).
UD simply means “design for all”. That is, everyone – the young, the old, people with different abilities – can live, work, learn and play in a friendlier living environment. For example, a ramp which primarily caters to wheelchair users, can be utilised by seniors on mobility devices as well as parents pushing prams.
A more inclusive Singapore
Still, more can be done. In addition to setting standards and regulations, it is key to recognise developers and building owners who voluntarily implement exemplary UD features in their buildings.
To date, more than 100 buildings in Singapore have attained BCA Universal Design (UD) Mark certification. Developers or building owners can work with authorities and their consultants to increase potential inclusiveness of the development during certification.
We will continue working to enhance accessibility and promote UD features, and in turn, foster a more inclusive society.
As society ages and becomes more diverse, cities and their buildings have an important role to play to ensure they remain accessible to people of different ages and abilities so that we can all live, work, learn and play with ease and dignity, in a friendly built environment.
Er. Clement Tseng is the Group Director (Building Plan and Management) at the Building and Construction Authority in Singapore. BCA regulates the building and construction industry and administers the Code on Accessibility, Universal Design Mark certification scheme, Accessibility Fund and the upcoming legislation on basic accessibility in Singapore.