The popular portrayal of urban centres in movies, television shows, or in marketing campaigns typically show young professionals romping around the city. However, in reality, the population of cities is marked by demographic diversity, and in recent years, the senior population percentage has been rapidly increasing as the baby boomers start to age. Traditional planning has indeed been more focused on the needs of young and middle-aged families. Now there needs to be a paradigm shift in order to plan and build our cities to accommodate the needs of this massive demographic change.
The City of Waterloo is committed to creating social and physical urban environments that are conducive to seniors who want to age in a healthy and active manner; the city has received the designation of an Age-friendly City by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO's Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities was established due to the increasing global awareness regarding ageing populations and what this meant to cities as a whole. This Global Network is focused on creating inclusive and accessible urban environments that meet the needs of all of a city's residents, especially the ageing population.
A particular challenge that arises when creating an age-friendly city is to ensure unrestricted mobility for senior citizens. Personal mobility is very important for seniors as some of them lose the ability to drive and some require the assistance of devices like the mobility scooter. When designing public space with an ageing population in mind, the city is mindful of things like the provision of curb cuts and the physical, visual, and audio cues at pedestrian crossings. Paved surfaces are also outfitted with non-slip markings and more seating opportunities like benches are provided in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic in the downtown core.
With age-friendly infrastructure in place, everyone will benefit as public spaces become more universally accessible. For example, making it easier and safer for seniors, especially those on mobility scooters, to navigate the city by creating wider sidewalks will also benefit parents with strollers and also disabled citizens in wheelchairs.
Another crucial factor in determining the inclusiveness and livability of Waterloo is the availability of housing that suits the needs of a diverse demographic range. Despite the recent focus on student housing, there are plenty of options for senior housing as well. Several retirement homes are located close to the downtown core, allowing seniors easy access to amenities like banks, shops, and restaurants. However, the city does need to ramp up efforts to provide housing to seniors from the lower income bracket and also to young families who are struggling to gain a foothold in Waterloo's competitive and expensive housing market.
Other than the physical environment, the city can also play a part in cultivating inclusiveness in the community by programming events that encourage inter-generational mingling. This could be as simple as providing reduced rates for city programs, to organizing community workshops where youth and seniors can facilitate inter-generational learning amongst themselves. For instance, youth can show seniors how to better navigate computers, and seniors can pass on their knowledge about woodworking to the younger generation.
As the population becomes more diverse, there will be a shift in how we plan and design cities. There will also need to be an increased awareness amongst the general populace about the needs of different demographic groups like seniors and young families.
Do you think that your city or community is age-friendly? What are some ways that we can make our communities more age-friendly?
Credits: Images by Becky Loi. Data linked to sources.