Abstract: In its promotion of “active ageing” through Age-Friendly Cities and Communities (AFCC) and the Global Network on AgeFriendly Cities and Communities (GNAFCC), the World Health Organization has developed a vision of ageing that links socio-spatial environments to personal lifestyles and community support. Approaching age-friendly environments from a “doing” perspective shifts our focus from such ideals to social practices, materialisations, and representations produced. Regularly referred to in AFCC discourse, public benches offer a great illustration for such materialisations. This article asks: what do benches tell us about the way ageing is framed and shaped in the AFCC discourse? How do benches themselves exhibit agency in it? Theoretically based on Lefebvrian social theory and critical gerontology, our reflexive article explores promotional/policy documents supporting AFCC worldwide, “good practices” shared by GNAFCC, and a series of European field observations around AFCC and benches and, finally, personal observations of ageing in public space around benches. Drawing on the Lefebvrian differentiation between representational benches, representations of benches, and social practices of benches, we show how benches can be considered as a socio-technical “assemblage” able to: 1) forge ambivalent representations and solutions for “active ageing” in public space, 2) illustrate, beyond the symbolic of space, the symbolic difficulties of “real” participative and multi-stakeholders governance promoted through “age-friendliness”, and 3) explore everyday life practices of “spatial expulsion” of “ageing in public space” for older adults. In conclusion, we suggest a major shift for the AFCC program by finding inspiration in African practices of “ageing in public space”.
Keywords: active ageing; age-friendly cities; critical gerontology; community life; environmental gerontology; public space; praxeology