Everyone Benefits From Age-Friendly Cities

Municipal leaders are in the spotlight less often than provincial and federal counterparts yet city services affect people in the most intimate and tangible facets of their everyday lives. City governance is particularly important for older people since seven out of ten Canadian seniors live in urban areas. The rising importance of urban life for ageing populations was reflected in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) development of an Age-friendly Cities guide that identifies eight essential dimensions that constitute an age friendly community based on what seniors around the world deem important.

The WHO guide lists specific proposals for the improvement of these eight areas for older Canadians. While the suggestions in the WHO guide provide a useful road map for cities to enhance their Age-friendliness, the guide is most noteworthy for its definition and legitimization of the concept of Age-friendly cities and its revelation of Age-friendliness as a major contributor to the collective strength of urban societies.

Looking at concrete age-friendly measures reveals the extent to which age-friendly cities benefit everyone. For example, by applying an age friendly lens to the design of built environments, governments can maximize the utility of public spaces and avoid the expense of retrofitting buildings in the future. Similarly, creating affordable and accessible transit helps prevent sedentary living amongst older people and allows communities and the local economy to benefit from the financial and social contribution of older adults.

Finally, programs that support social participation and inclusion ease the stress of families caring for their older relatives and allow for the kind of work and volunteering on the part of older people that helps build strong communities. These proposals benefit not just older people, but women, children, families and the taxpayer. To put it simply, urban spaces that work for older people, work for everyone. The good news is that Municipal leaders are beginning to catch on to this idea. Here’s a brief snapshot of what’s happening from west to east.

We invite readers to tell us about any initiatives happening in their communities that they might find particularly helpful or promising.

BC – The Union of BC Municipalities has partnered with the Healthy Children, Women and Seniors and Injury Prevention Branch of the Ministry of Health to create resources for local governments and communities to assist them in becoming age-friendly. Several communities are taking up the challenge and have held community meetings as a first step. http://www.seniorsincommunities.ca/age-friendly/

Manitoba – Manitoba has made a commitment to making that province “the most age friendly province in Canada” and alongside its community, academic and business partners is working with 29 communities in the “first round” of action in support of this vision. http://www.gov.mb.ca/shas/agefriendly/initiative.html

Ontario – June is Seniors’ Month in Ontario and the theme in 2009 is Age Friendly Communities. Over a dozen initiatives have sprung up around the province. Seven regional dialogues will be held this fall to inspire local action while the francophone community undertakes a similar effort. www.ontarioseniors.ca/