Friday, May 11, 2012

Speech from CARP on Aging in Place

Last night, I had the privilege to speak at the inaugural public meeting of the South Fraser CARP chapter on "Will where you live affect your quality of life as you age?" I was a great event, and I thought I'd share the speech I delivered.


In 2010, the Township of Langley completed an Age-Friendly Community Evaluation Study. The study found, not surprisingly, that our population is aging. For example in the next 14 years, the Township’s over 65 population will double to more than 22,000 citizens. The study also found that the top concerns for older citizen were around better awareness and communication about services and community programs, transportation and accessibility, and health services and overall well-being. I will be focusing on transportation and accessibility.

Since World War II, we have been designing our communities around the automobile and mobility. The results have been the single-use, single-family suburban neighbourhood and strip mall. Researchers like Dr. Richard Jackson, who worked at the US Centre for Decease Control and California Public Health, has found links between obesity, diabetes, and respiratory illness such as asthma; and our suburban built form. In fact if you live close to roads like 200th Street or Highway 1, you are at a higher risk of contracting a respiratory illness and the sad reality is that the most vulnerable in our community, the young and the older, will feel the effects first. Research has also show that there are negative social consequences to our built form. If you look at many neighbourhoods in the South of Fraser without access to a car, you have no access to a rewarding and dignified way of life: we could end up with a community of “shut-in” seniors. Of those seniors who are capable of operating a motor vehicle, the ever increasing cost of gas will have a financial consequence for those who are on a fixed income. It is no surprise that the Township of Langley’s study contained many reference to providing better public transportation. So how should we be designing our communities?

We need to stop building our communities around mobility, get people from point a to point b in the fastest way possible, and start building accessible communities which focus on providing an environment that allow all citizens access to the services they need and provide high quality, independent living opportunity for all people at all stages in their lives. What does an accessible community look like?

I live in the City of Langley in its downtown core. This part of town has a high percentage of older citizens. Why do they choose to live in Downtown Langley? They have access to shopping, medical services, and social activities within a short walk or a short trip on transit. They do not need to rely on driving or other to get them around. In fact Downtown Langley is referred to as a Naturally Occurring Senior Citizen Area. We need more places like this in the South of Fraser. The Township of Langley is looking a creating an urban village in the Carvolth Area in northern Willoughby, and the City of Abbotsford is revitalizing its walkable core. These are the kind of area that will allow older citizen to age in place with dignity. Again it is no surprise that then that the demand for suburban, single-family housing continues to shrink while the demand for more urban, walkable communities continues to increase.

As older citizen, you must demand that your local government place a priority on building accessible, walkable, transit friendly communities that include shops and services for seniors. You must also demand that your local, provincial, and federal politicians come to the table to fund a balanced transportation network which places a higher priority on walking and public transportation. Not only will you be helping yourself, but you’ll be providing a brighter, more sustainable future for your children and grandchildren. You are one of the most powerful demographics in Canada right now, when you speak, governments will listen.

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