Talking Age-Friendly Cities with an Urban Guru

Drivers and pedestrians would all be much safer if our cities embraced the virtues of Universal Design—a discipline that seeks to make places that are accessible to everyone. CARP has long promoted this concept, along with the creation of Age-Friendly Cities.

As our population ages, design and municipal policy can work both to enhance public safety and to maintain drivers’ independence, as long as it is safe to do so.

This could start with simple, obvious things, such as creating signage that is easier to distinguish—bigger stop signs and street signs—as well as ensuring that pavement markings are clear, legible and unambiguous. Another option is to provide wider pavement markings to delineate the travel path for all drivers on all approaches to intersections, to compensate for visual limitations.

We could reduce speed limits, adding dedicated turning lanes and allowing more time at intersections with lights, so that pedestrians can walk rather than being required to sprint. We know this is an issue for older pedestrians, as a few participants in the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities focus group complained that stoplights were meant for Olympic runners!

The importance of providing alternative modes of transportation cannot be overstated, and public policy needs to take this into account. It is possible that many older drivers feel they might be trapped without their driver’s licence, as there is currently a dearth of publicly-funded alternatives to driving.

This points to a growing a need for public policy-makers to initiate affordable and accessible transport programs such as Paratransit, Dial-a-Ride, volunteer transportation networks, private chauffeur service and shuttles operated by seniors’ centres. Those who have used such services have positive things to say about them, but there is a disincentive to promoting these services, as they are often unable to meet demand. Another possibility is to provide taxi chits for seniors who might require curb-to-curb or door-to-door service.

As the population ages, we will have to initiate some of these programs if we are to truly embrace aging at home, aging with dignity and public safety. What is more, these changes help everyone—that’s why they call it Universal Design.

CARP Action Online sat down with urban guru Glen Murray to discuss these issues. Murray was Mayor of Winnipeg from 1998-2004 and the first openly gay Mayor of a large North American city. Currently he is CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute, a non-profit organization devoted to enhancing the quality of life across Canada and internationally.

CARP Action Online: What is CANURB and what are your major areas of research interest right now?

There are several research projects—we’re looking at sustainable energy systems, we’re doing a lot of work on the cultural regeneration of cities, helping cities transition from a production to a knowledge-based, creative economy. One of the largest areas of research right now is looking at the demographic shift and seeing how cities are going to address say, mobility challenges with the aging population… In 2031, one out of four of us will be over 65 in Canada and at that point, two-thirds of these people will be living in suburban neighborhoods on streets that are not easily walkable. These are just some of the areas we’re looking at… Another thing to consider is that the aging population has a massive impact on city services. We need to think about that as well.