The Evaluation on Walkability in an Aging Society: the Case of Senri New Town, Japan


  • Sota Aida Osaka University




In recent years, Japan has experienced a rapid aging society with a declining birthrate, and there has also been a growing interest in the concept of 15-minute cities, which the proximity to urban amenities is concerned. In the planning and development of future cities, pedestrian accessibility has increasingly been prioritized. To deal with the needs towards the ageing society, it is important to develop urban environments that focus on the lifestyles and health promotion of the elderly.

In Japan, however, there are still few studies on the walkability of the elderly, while a lot of previous studies discuss the evaluation of built environment characteristics and real estate values with regard to the needs of the general population, which focused more on younger and healthier people. The purpose of this study is to examine the walkability in the urban environments for the elderly using a case study in the Takanodai district within Senri New Town, where 38.9% of the total population is over 65 years old. The Senri New Town was the first large-scale new town development in 1970 in Japan aimed at providing a better walking environment for residents, and the initial design was therefore planned to create separate designated space for pedestrians and vehicles by arranging cul-de-sacs following the Radburn method to walk safely.

As the first step of this study, a literature review was conducted on existing walkability indices for the elderly, and a limited number of papers was selected as a basis of developing a walkability index for this research. These papers introduce key indicators for walkability assessment to address the elderly’s needs. For this research we selected the following seven indicators ("presence of sidewalks," "pavement condition and obstructions such as parked bicycles," "condition of stairs," "degree of slope," "parks and recreational facilities," "trees and vegetation," and "street lighting") to develop a walkability index.

Next, a quantitative walkability evaluation was carried out in the Takanodai district using the walkability index. Using a heat map the walkability of each street was shown in the selected two case study areas: 1) detached housing neighborhood (low-density) and 2) social housing neighborhood (high density tower blocks). In this paper we present the findings from the detached housing neighborhood which consists of the majority of the Takanodai area and is characterized by its hilly topography. As a result, the pedestrian-only streets, which were initially designed as a footpath to improve walkability, were rated at the lowest in the walkability index. In contrast, general roads, some of which do not have dedicated sidewalks are rated higher. This is due to the fact that the pedestrian-only streets are often hilly and have stairs and do not appear to be not suitable for older people to enjoy walking. This suggests that when the Senri New Town was developed in 1970, the Japanese government had a limited awareness of the need to include barrier-free access and it seems that slopes and stairs were not considered as an obstacle to walking since new towns generally attracted young families to settle in.

This study developed an elderly-focused walkability index and applied it for the neighborhoods in the Senri New Town, where the population is aging, and found that the urban planning of the time of the development no longer works well in the current aging society. The present research evaluated the walkability with reference to objective characteristics of the built environment, and future research is planned to pursue the examination of residents’ perception of walkability as well as the actualized walking by residents.