Age Friendly report due in the fall (column)
London Community News
Quite apart from whatever strategy London decides to put in place to attract more seniors, their numbers are growing as a percentage of the city’s population as the huge cohort of Baby Boomers age.
In anticipation of this, several years ago London became the first community in Canada to embrace the concept of an Age Friendly City, as specified by the World Health Organization (WHO), a division of the United Nations.
The next step comes early this fall when the Age Friendly London Task Force presents its report.
WHO’s definition of an age-friendly city is “a place that optimizes opportunities for health, participation and security to enhance the quality of life as people age.”
At present, about 15 per cent of London’s population is over age 65. This is expected to rise to 22 per cent of the population by 2031, or almost 100,000 people, according to a recent city report, forcing new challenges on government services already burdened by a continuing financial squeeze.
But London is getting ready, says Donna Baxter, the city’s manager of policy and research in the neighbourhood and children’s services department. The Age Friendly Task Force, on which scores of London seniors have been working over the summer, has been attempting to answer questions raised in a 2010 study by a working group headed by former city controller Gina Barber, herself a senior.
While specific details of the task force report won’t be released until Oct. 1, says Ms. Baxter, there will be recommendations about public transport, housing, urban planning, recreation and library services.
In some cases, the city will be urged to improve on what it does now. In others, it will be a matter of helping seniors connect with services already available in London. One of the specific recommendations, in fact, is to develop programs to educate older adults on where to go for information, particularly for housing and transportation support.
Transportation is a major concern as people age. They want to be mobile, but not dependent on others to get around. London Transit and Paratransit are an important part of that mobility, so the task force is making recommendations about bus stop amenities and specific services similar to the Cherry Hill shopping bus.
Recreation is important, too. The task force has considered suggestions from the way parks are laid out to the kinds of programs available to seniors, both of which have implications for the design of public facilities and how quickly they are built. But the task force doesn’t want everything aimed at older adults.
They are also recommending more inter-generational programs.
At election time older adults are more likely to vote than young people, but they aren’t so actively engaged in civic affairs between elections. The task force believes one way to make London more age friendly is to find ways to encourage older adults to get more involved in the decision-making processes, particularly in the creation of programs and services aimed at them.
The task force also sees an opportunity for local businesses by offering specific deals for older residents. The bottom line, the task force argues, is to change the stereotype of seniors and stop ageism. Ms. Baxter actually takes that a step farther: “Age friendly should apply to everyone.”
Philip McLeod is a longtime London journalist who writes a regular blog on civic affairs. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.