Gdynia is getting old at a frightening speed. Poland’s Central Statistical Office [GUS] data show that of the nearly 250,000 inhabitants of this port city on the Baltic coast of Poland, more than 60,000 are senior citizens, and this number continues to rise. “The demographic structure of the city has changed dramatically in recent years. The observable trends make it quite clear that the average age of the urban population is rising fast,” said the Mayor of Gdynia, Wojciech Szczurek.
Aging populations are a problem for all EU countries. But Poland lags behind the rest regarding employment of senior citizens and their involvement in citizen initiatives. Countrywide, barely 10 percent of golden-agers devote some time to voluntary work.
The Gdynia municipal authorities resolve to change this. They are encouraging senior citizens to play an active role in civil society in order to improve various aspects of their lives. “With increasing numbers of elderly people, local authorities have to take appropriate steps on their behalf,” Marek Szymański, Director of the Senior Citizen Support Center and coordinator of the Gdynia Inter-Generation Dialogue program, said. “It is worth making younger generations aware that old age is a stage of life that awaits us all. Mutual understanding and knowledge will help to show the hidden potential of intergenerational relationships.”
It was in Gdynia that Poland’s first institution representing the elderly, the Senior Citizen Engagement Center, came into being in 2004. Another institution called the University of the Third Age has existed for a number of years, and senior citizens’ clubs have been rapidly developing.
The city pays a great deal of attention to developing new forms of senior citizen support and continually improving quality of care. Authorities aim to involve as broad a range of residents as possible. Since last year, they have been holding public consultations to prepare the ground for a new era in local intergenerational politics.
“We are encouraging people to get involved and we are listening to future generations, to be sure that what has been introduced is effective and necessary,” Michał Guć, Gdynia’s Deputy Mayor in charge of innovation, explained.
Residents of all ages are invited to participate in the conversations. “The questions that come up at these meetings should help to develop areas of local authority action that will best match the needs of the city’s inhabitants,” said Katarzyna Stec, Deputy Director of the Municipal Social Assistance Center in Gdynia. These actions touch upon different aspects of the city, from transportation to social life to attractive, accessible public spaces. “The city plans its services with an eye on the demographic variety of its residents, to ensure quality of life regardless of age or other limitations,” Stec explained.
One result of the dialogue with senior citizens and their families is the development of the Gdynia Standard for Care Services. Tele-care, an arm bracelet that includes an alarm button for emergencies, has been added to improve the safety of individuals who live alone.
In addition to day care centers, the city is developing small-group forms of support, or care clubs for senior citizens. “We are also developing the availability of round-the-clock support; building a new center, where respite care (for caregivers) and support for senior citizens following hospitalization will be available,” Deputy Mayor Guć said.
Some work with senior citizens involves methods to help them maintain physical and mental sharpness. “Gdynia’s care and treatment staff compiled educational material to be used on memory training and reminiscence therapy,” Deputy Mayor Guć said. “They’ve also created multimedia equipment to enhance memory, with the assistance of Gdynia’s experts and senior citizens.”
Thanks to the dialogue with seniors, both citizens and local authorities have adopted an official “Pact for an Intergenerational City.” The mayor’s deputy said, “This document contains common values to promote an intergenerational city, demands that will link decision-makers and groups involved in the process, and also declarations on joint action and mutual inclusion in putting the pact into effect.” He added that it will be presented at a Gdynia City Council meeting next October: “It will sum up the celebration of International Senior Citizens’ Day.”
WHO has recognized Gdynia as one of the most age-friendly cities in the world. “This title marks the culmination of more than a dozen years of implementing long-term senior citizen policies. It’s a recognition not only of senior-orientated actions, but also of intergenerational inclusion for planning and work on behalf of local society,” the local representative added.
Other cities are looking to learn from Gdynia’s experience. In October 2017, several Polish cities, including Gdynia, Poznan, Krakow and Warsaw, signed a joint work statement regarding senior citizen policies. “This agreement will promote an exchange of experiences, and help spread good practices even more effectively throughout the country,” Deputy Mayor Guć said.
Gdynia is getting old at a frightening speed. Poland’s Central Statistical Office [GUS] data show that of the nearly 250,000 inhabitants of this port city on the Baltic coast of Poland, more than 60,000 are senior citizens, and this number continues to rise. “The demographic structure of the city has changed dramatically in recent years. The observable trends make it quite clear that the...