Gone are the days when life stops with retirement. With longer life expectancy, many people can go on living secure, productive and meaningful lives way past their retirement age.

The Employees Provident Fund’s (EPF) annual International Social Security Conference 2016 discussed healthy ageing and establishing age-friendly communities, in addition to exploring the issue of engaging the growing senior generation in the economic and social landscape.

Themed “Active Ageing: Live Long and Prosper” and jointly organised with State Street, a leading provider of financial services to institutional investors, with The Star as the media partner.

A special media roundtable session was held during the conference entitled, “Vibrant Cities, Healthy Communities, Happier People”, with four speakers – EPF’s deputy CEO (Strategy) Tunku Alizakri Alias, 8 80 Cities founder Gil (Guillermo) Penalosa, Smorenberg Corporate Consultancy CEO, and founder of the World Pension Summit Harry Smorenberg and Denmark’s Happiness Research Institute CEO Meik Wiking.

In addition to knowing how to manage your money and having enough money to retire with, there are also other aspects to retirement, such as healthy communities and happiness levels.

Penalosa: We need to create cities that are friendly towards the elderly. One way we evaluate a city is via its city streets. We need to think of the most vulnerable people, the children, older adults, the poor and the handicapped.

Our cities are really horrible for older adults. For example, in Kuala Lumpur, I have been around the city but I haven’t seen a nice sidewalk anywhere … and I’ve been to some of the wealthiest and poorest neighbourhoods. When pedestrians are walking and all the sidewalks are broken and the intersections are not safe, you are telling people they are second class citizens.

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Good quality parks that are easily accessible to the elderly can help people develop a sense of belonging and solidarity. Photo: The Star

In the Netherlands and Denmark, people walk everywhere. More than 40% of the people in Copenhagen ride bicycles as their mode of mobility. Here, not even 1%. And Copenhagen is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, same as Amsterdam.

In Malaysia, people who have cars spend 25%-35% of their income towards mobility. There is nothing that the government can do to improve the financial situations of people more than allowing the households to downsize from two cars to one, or from one to zero. If people are spending so much of their income on mobility, they will have no money to retire.

You need to make the price of cars, parking and gas expensive to encourage the use of public transport and also change the mindset of the status symbol associated with having a car.

One big concern among older adults is social isolation. We need good quality parks within 500m of their homes. Parks will help people develop a sense of belonging and solidarity.

I think we need to build cities differently, and I think that is a big area that Kuala Lumpur and many other Asian cities is failing.

A hundred years ago, we had 200 million people living in cities. Today we have 3.5 billion. In 35 years, we will have seven billion people living in cities. And we are going to have to build as many cities as we have ever done in the history of humanity.

So, in many ways, the wellbeing of older adults is (related) to their savings but just as important is their community, their sidewalks, their neighbourhood, parks and better connection to public transport.

As countries start to build more cities due to urban migration, how important is the need to have cities built properly to cater to the needs of society?

Penalosa: Many cities are facing a health crisis. The problems of health among the older adults is not that they are getting older, because the main cost of health is only (largely incurred) in the last two years of their lives.

But healthcare has to be preventive. Here in Malaysia today, one out of five Malaysians are obese. Of course it is still lower than the United States but it is the highest in Asia. That is a big concern because then there will be problems with heart attacks, respiratory problems, depression and anxiety.

And finally, from the point of economic development, we live in a globalised world where the best people, from carpenters to doctors, can live anywhere they want. So for Malaysia to be competitive, you have to have good quality of life because people (do not like) to be stuck in traffic for one hour in an otherwise 10-minute journey. If people are not going to have parks where they can go to, then they are going to go somewhere else.

You are going to continue growing but the problem is some of the best people are going to move. So that is an issue of economic competitiveness. Quality of life, in my opinion, is the most important tool of economic competitiveness in this century.

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One big concern among older adults is social isolation and one solution is building and maintaining good quality parks within 500m of their homes. Photo: The Star

Tunku Alizakri: If we have a complete change of mindset in terms of what defines success – like happiness or ability to raise a solid family foundation, ability to take care of yourself – that will drive the development agenda of any government. Then we will start to look at building cities, building lives and transportation systems which are geared towards achieving those sorts of targets. For example, Bhutan has their Gross National Happiness Index.

So we need to change our mindset and targets. I don’t see tangible targets geared towards quality of life, for example.

Penalosa: The reality is there is a gap between the haves and the have-nots. You will never be able to, in the short term, change the (incomes) of everyone. However, in the short term, you can give fantastic public space to everybody. That is something that you have the resources to do, to have proper sidewalks and parks.

With all these, the quality of life is going to improve substantially. The most important symbol of democracy, I think, is the sidewalk. That is where the life of the streets happen.

Tunku Alizakri: I think this is where Malaysia needs to start constructing spaces and infrastructures that promote social network. Research has shown that loneliness is one of the major factors of loss of life. Lonely people actually lose five years of their life expectancy. Kuala Lumpur, for example, is becoming a lonelier city. There are not enough spaces for us to interact and integrate and communicate with one another.

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