It's a game of spot the cracked pavement, the pot hole, the bad street light and the overly steep slope.

Teams of Hawke's Bay senior citizens are out on the streets gathering data on how suitable a neighbourhood is for older residents.

The national project is a partnership with Massey University health psychology researchers, and the results will show on a publicly available online map of New Zealand.

Professor Christine Stephens, from the Health and Ageing Research Team at Massey's School of Psychology, said the pilot scheme was being rolled out in Napier, Levin, Foxton, Wellington and Dunedin.


The aim is to identify the age-friendliness of New Zealand's residential areas and where improvements are needed, as well as to identify strengths.

It is in response to the reality of our ageing population set to burgeon in the coming decades.

Councils needed to factor in the needs of older people living in the community for civic planning, Stephens said.

The project trials the participatory research tool OPERAT (Older People's External Residential Assessment Tool), where seniors collect information about their local neighbourhoods.

It was developed by Welsh researchers Professor Vanessa Burholt and Dr Matthew Roberts, at the Centre for Innovative Ageing, Swansea University.

Stephens said the project was empowering for volunteers because they were helping to ensure the needs of their age group are being considered.

They are provided with a manual, survey questions and clipboard and can enter the data they collect online or by posting it to the research team.

In Napier, volunteer data collectors, including members of Napier City Council's Positive Ageing Strategy Reference Group, Napier Community Patrol, Age Concern Napier, and Māori Women's Welfare League, have just begun a month-long data collection period.

It is the only New Zealand city to receive Government funding for an age-friendly project, from the Office for Seniors, which is part of the Ministry of Social Development.

The volunteers will be making observations from the street about property, for example, the state of footpaths, street lights, noise, traffic, and green spaces.

The information they collect may be used by Napier City Council to help inform its Positive Ageing Strategy, and by other organisations wanting to build a picture of how "age friendly" Napier's communities are, council spokesman Craig Ogborn said.

The OPERAT tool is a visual checklist of 17 items, completed on location in a meshblock area.

Meshblocks usually contain about 20 properties. When the assessment is completed the results from the 20 properties are used to calculate an overall score for the meshblock area.

Scores are calculated for four subscales that capture: Natural Elements; Incivilities and Nuisance; Navigation and Mobility; and Territorial Functioning.