News From May 2, 2013
In response to aging populations, the World Health Organization (WHO) produced Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide in 2007 to identify the domains of cities that support seniors. In 2011, Edmonton was one of four cities in Canada to be given the designation as an age-friendly city by the WHO.
Candace Nykiforuk, assistant professor
The researchers found that the seniors identified many of the elements identified in the WHO guidelines. The discussion surrounding summer identified six main concerns: fear of others; obstacles and broken pathways; seating; public transit; ramps, stairs, railings and curb cuts; and aesthetics and cleanliness. The winter discussion identified four main concerns: cleanliness and litter; bus shelters; ice, snow, windrows and drainage; and meeting places.
However, to the surprise of the researchers, the discussion illuminated an attitude that is actually at odds with the guidelines. Although many of the identified concerns are the responsibility of municipalities, the researchers noted that the participants unquestionably accepted that individuals must learn to adapt to the environment, rather than asking for the environment to be adapted to their needs.
“We’re dealing with a generation of people who grew up in an era of ‘do-it-for-yourself’,” says Nykiforuk. “We saw a fierce pride and independence in the participants, and the thought of having an expectation that something in their community should be adapted to their specific needs, for example by adding ramps and the like, was just not something they considered.”
This exposes a tension between enabling seniors to age within their chosen communities and protecting them from an environment that isn’t appropriate for aging. Many seniors choose to remain in communities where they have forged social bonds with others, despite the fact that it presents more challenges to mobility as they age.
Many of these issues are not just concerns for seniors, but those of other age groups, as well. “There are other things that were discussed that don’t just cater to seniors, such as clearing windrows or marking broken parts of sidewalks,” says Nykiforuk. “The built environment can’t just be age-friendly, but should also be universally friendly. We need to make it easier for everyone to get outdoors more often and get around easily in their community.”
According to Nykiforuk, given its designation as an age-friendly city, Edmonton is clearly ahead of the curve in terms of its commitment to supporting seniors through infrastructure, transportation and a variety of other elements.
“The City of Edmonton is very progressive in its thinking about aging. A tremendous amount of work has been done to identify and implement initiatives that are age-friendly,” she says.
“And while we still have a lot to learn about aging in place, the City and the School are well positioned to have a voice and a role in making Edmonton a more senior-friendly city.”
This research was published in Geografiska Annaler.