How easy is it to engage in fitness and recreational activities in communities? Is public transportation accessible and affordable? Do neighbourhoods offer green space, community centres and seniors centres that are both inviting and secure? Do affordable housing options meet communities’ needs? These are just some of the questions that policymakers are asking themselves as they grapple with the changing needs of an aging population.
For many regions, the solution is making communities more “age-friendly.”
Surveys suggest that seniors like the move towards more accessible and inclusive neighbourhoods. According to a recent poll by Canada's Association for the Fifty-Plus (CARP), for example, respondents said they want more flexible housing options, improved street lighting and signage, more public seating and washrooms, and expanded access to public transit services.
Interestingly, the poll also found that almost 20 per cent of older adults surveyed wanted a more direct role in developing these communities through age-friendly municipal advisory councils.
For its part, British Columbia is emerging as a leader in new investments in age-friendly initiatives: “We are increasingly focused on helping older adults stay mobile, physically active and healthy through age-friendly community initiatives,” says the former Minister of Healthy Living and Sport Ida Chong. “Last year, the province invested $1.8 million on projects like accessible community parks in 18 different communities across B.C.,” she explains.
The need to get more seniors involved in community planning was also the inspiration behind Simon Fraser University’s latest Outreach DVD, A Place for Everyone: Age-Friendly Communities. This one-hour roundtable discussion is moderated by CBC Radio’s Mark Forsythe, who hosts a successful daily current affairs program called BC Almanac. Panellists include gerontologist Elaine Gallagher, architect and planner Lewis Villegas and former Vancouver City Councillor Gordon Price.
The discussion explores a wide variety of age-friendly issues, from housing and transportation to better use of public space.
SFU Continuing Studies Dean Helen Wussow is pleased with the university's developing role in this area. “We hope this DVD will enhance a national conversation among older adults about what they want in their communities," she says.
Acting Seniors Program Director Dr. David Gordon Duke agrees. "We hope to hear more from seniors, especially how they believe society can build better neighbourhoods that support their needs.”
The video examines how more creative thinking and flexibility can make “senior-friendly” planning solutions a reality.
Gordon Price suggests that neighbourhood renewal begins with changing attitudes about what works. “We design and market our housing for one class of people, at one point in their lives, and then we strive to keep it that way,” he explains. “But when we become seniors, we often find our community can’t accommodate our changing needs.”
Architect Lewis Villegas agrees: ideal communities of the future should have most daily amenities available within a short five-minute walk. “People should enjoy access to all the basic services they need nearby, such as groceries, everyday medical supplies, recreation centres, libraries, restaurants, banks, parks and, most importantly, transit.”
Gerontologist Elaine Gallagher suggests sometimes making communities age-friendly simply means reorganizing existing resources in a different way - especially transit services. “Most bus schedules are set up to meet the needs of workers during rush hours,” Gallagher explains, “but some municipalities redeploy school buses after the morning rush, so that seniors can get around town during the day.”
Seniors interested in participating can view the DVD free of charge online through the SFU Seniors Program website at www.sfu.ca/seniors, or pick up a copy of the DVD at selected libraries, community centres and seniors centres in their area. Viewers are encouraged to download and complete an evaluation form, detailing what they would like to see in their future age-friendly community. A final report compiling all feedback from seniors about the DVD is now available on the program's website, with copies being made available to municipalities and planning departments across the province.
JANUARY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND