Friday, May 24, 2013

The Township of Langley and Building Age-Friendly Communities

In 2007, Township of Langley council endorsed the idea of becoming an age-friendly community. The idea of an age-friendly community according to the Township is “a community for all ages and where policies, services and structures of the physical and social environment are designed to support older community residents in making choices that will enhance their health and well-being and reduce reliance on more costly alternatives.” At the last Council Priorities meeting, the Seniors Advisory Committee was endorsed to also become the “Age-Friendly Advisory Steering Committee”. Also, Council recommended that age-friendly planning and design be incorporated into the Carvolth and Brookswood Neighbourhood Plans.

What I find interesting in the discussion about building an age-friendly community is that it there isn’t much talk about the very young or those with disabilities. An age-friendly community should be a community that is accessible to all. And a community that is accessible to all really has to be a walkable community.

Anyway back in 2010, the Township of Langley’s commissioned a report on age-friendly communities titled “The Voice of Older Citizens” which was a fact finding report about what concerns seniors had about their communities. The board themes of the report where around:

Increased awareness, knowledge, and communication about services and activities for seniors was a strong desire in all communities

Transportation and accessibility came up in each dialogue although the community’s specific needs differed.

The loss of the Langley Seniors Centre funding for Volunteer Outreach drivers has been noticed and felt by each of the four communities engaged in these dialogues.

Health services and overall well-being was discussed in all dialogues but has been uniquely named by each community.

As I read the report, the thing that stood out to me as the overall theme was that seniors wanted an accessible community. The Township of Langley is designed around vehicular mobility and unless you are a perfectly healthy young to middle-aged adult, the Township is not an accessible place. Because most of the built-form in the Township is single-use and auto-oriented due to zoning, most seniors live far away from shops, services (including medical), and social activities. They need to rely on other people to drive them around which means a loss of independence and a loss of dignity. In fact, the whole built form of the Township is designed to create a community of shut-in seniors and forced “soccer moms”.

One of the recommendations in the report is to create an action plan on making the Township more age-friend which also includes developing a framework and recommendations for age-friendly land-use policies. From what I can gather, no board framework was ever developed by the Township.

I’ve talked a lot about building walkable community, but the reality is that an accessible community has to be walkable. It’s no surprise that there is a large number of seniors who choose to live in Downtown Langley were they can walk or scooter independently to shops, services, and social activities. Right now, I can only think of three places in the Township that are age-friendly: Fort Langley, Downtown Aldergrove, and Murrayville around 222nd Street. Walnut Grove, Willoughby, and Willowbrook (which have the largest populations and are the highest-growth areas) are currently not accessible and are certainly not walkable.

While there are other important things to look at when building an age-friend community like building adaptable housing, creating an accessible public realm, and providing community services that are accessible to the very young, people with disabilities, and seniors, if Township Council is serious about building age-friendly communities, they need to get serious about building walkable communities. Walkable communities lay the groundwork for a transit-friendly city.

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