Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Township’s Age-Friendly Strategy misses the forest for the tress

One of the major shifts happening in the demographics of Canadian cities is that populations are aging. Over the next few decades, Canadian cities will not only see an absolute increase in the amount of older people, but those older people will represent a larger slice of the overall population. This means that municipalities need to rethink everything from how they are designed to the services they deliver.

Successful cities will need to need to look at everything they do through the lens of accessibility.

Today most cities are designed around mobility. These cities are designed to get people in cars quickly from point a to point b.

A city designed around accessibility tries to connect people with the things they want to do. This could be going to working, school, shopping, or to a park. It’s a subtle, but important difference. An accessible city is designed to give people who are full mobility and people with limited mobility equal access. People with limited mobility can include children, teenagers, people with disabilities, seniors, and people with limited income.

As we age, our mobility becomes increasingly limited. In a mobility-focused city, this means that as we age, our opportunities to participate in society decreases.

Most of the Township of Langley’s built-form is mobility-focused. If you don’t own a car or are able to drive, you’re ability to thrive in the Township of Langley is limited. Recognising this, the Township of Langley commissioned an Age-Friendly Community Strategy Plan. The draft was presented to Township Council yesterday.

The Strategy focuses on:
Outdoor Spaces & Building
Respect & Social Inclusion
Social Participation
Community & Information
Civic Participation & Employment
Community Support & Heath Service

When I was reviewing this strategy, it struck me as odd that the authors seemed to brush over the fact that accessible communities need mixed-use town centres. Communities built around mixed-use centres are 80% of the way to becoming fully accessible. This is why, for example, Downtown Langley has a large population of older people.

Some of the recommendations made in the Age-Friendly Strategy would be hard to implement without having mixed-use centres, or would have their effectiveness reduced.

For example, if the Township increased the amount of age-friend programming at its community centres, but people still needed to drive to the centres, the effectiveness of that programming would be limited.

The strategy recommends encouraging active living. Mixed-use centre, which tend to be walkable, naturally allow people to live a more active life. Communities designed for driving reduce active living.

How age-friendly is a park with age-friend elements such as benches, washrooms, and wide paths if there are barriers to get to that park? For example, it might take an hour to get there by any other mode than driving.

The Age-Friendly Strategy is a good plan, but it is the icing on the cake. The Township really needs to bake the cake first. This means building accessibly-designed communities with mixed-use centre that can incorporate the great recommendation contained in this strategy.

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