If we were to believe a study published by a Concordia University researcher, it would be necessary to redouble efforts in order to attract silver heads and other "boomers," who are set to expand the cohort of seniors over the course of the coming decades like never before, to urban centers.
In spite of analyses that hold out the prospect of a "white wave" for revitalizing and densifying the city centers, the conclusions of Professor Zak Patterson, a Professor in the Department of Geography, Urbanism and Environment , leave us uneasy. In effect, during the years 1990 and 2000, a refined analysis of Canadian census data collected by the latter reveals an inverse tendency instead. Not only are the elderly not converging toward city centers, but the proportion of adults older than sixty-five who have chosen to move to the suburbs has been growing continuously - all over the country.
In Montreal, the portrait of the last two decades is worse off than for other urban agglomerations. While a third of people aged 65-74 and 75 and over were choosing to migrate toward city centers in 1991, only 18 percent of the people in the same age group chose to reunite toward Montreal's center in 2006. Only the City of Vancouver seems to have escaped the growing attraction to the suburbs among the elderly.
"In Montreal, it's always the section of the population aged 25-30 that is more attracted to the city center. Gentrification is always attracting the more educated layers of the population and households without children. Our data do not corroborate the hypotheses that say that baby boomers are returning to the city centers," affirms Mr. Patterson.
A Question of Housing?
If the numbers do not allow for targeting the exact cause of this disinterest, the same census reveals that during the same period, nearly three times as much housing was built in the suburbs than in Montreal. In short, the availability of affordable housing could in part explain the disaffection of the elderly, so coveted by Montreal's elected officials, urbanists and the promoters of sustainable development.
For the moment, it is impossible to say if the thousands of condos which are popping up like mushrooms in Montreal's city center and in the central neighborhoods could reverse the course for the next cohort of silver hairs. One thing is certain, the increase in real estate values will attract only those who enjoy a golden retirement, and will make the others run to the suburbs.
The theory of the "empty nest," which says that couples without children fall back on the smaller housing stock in the city center is shaken up a bit. Certain recent polls taken by brokerage firms even put forth that a good proportion of the "boomers" do not end up staking out the city center again, but larger houses for their retirement.
These numbers are not good news, neither for the cities, nor for the elderly themselves, considering the mobility crisis of letting oneself plan for retirement in the suburbs. A house that is not appropriate for people with reduced mobility, bad access to medial services, cultural activities and shopping: in the suburbs deprived of efficient mass transit systems, aging without a car is a true condemnation to isolation.
In order to attract all those who will be joining the clan of graying hair over these coming years, the great cities of Quebec and Canada will have a lot to do in terms of adapting their neighborhoods, their roads, their sidewalks and their hosting options to the needs of aging people, as our neighbors to the south have shown.
In the United States, where a great proportion of the population lives in the suburbs, aging is already perceived as one of the greatest social challenges that the country will have to take up during the next decades.
What are the known trends for "aging in place" in your community? Is it common for the elderly to relocate to the suburbs or urban areas? Share your city's stories in the comments below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.