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Seniors Calling ~ For Pete's Sake ~ Throw in some shade, will ya ~

Seniors Calling ~ For Pete's Sake ~ Throw in some shade, will ya ~

NORTHERN, ONTARIO  ~~~~~~  July 12, 2021  (LSN)  Canada's senior population is growing. This makes it more important than ever to support the health and well-being of older Canadians. This way, seniors can lead healthy and active lives and stay involved in their communities. Making communities "age-friendly" is believed to be one of the best ways to do this.

It's a tough time to be all of us as individuals ~ We really don't know where this (re-opening) is all headed ~  Provinces and Territories in Canada and American States are moving at different speeds in *re-opening their economies*. The international land borders with our ally, partner and friends to the south are under pressure to re-open. Double-vaxxed ~ vaccine passports look to be the new safe travelling benchmark.

Each of us as individuals will ultimately decide what feels right for us as re-opening cruises along. We are in uncharted waters ~ people keep saying this phrase, but it's accurate . And so, why not embrace these uncharted waters and start mapping out better accessible and senior friendly spaces.

As professional urban and rural planners move along into and past 2021, I hope we see a massive 'imagining' of senior living. Certainly there are already many examples of senior living spaces that people are passionate about and support. Downtown cores, for example, where seniors occupy buildings dedicated to seniors as residents need to be top-of-mind for city planners.

According to several studies on the subject, senior friendly communities build walking gardens and botanical gardens with wide paved, even trails. They have plenty of benches dotting the edges of the trails ~ in shady locations where tree canopy acts as natural shade ~ places that invite songbirds and butterflies. Seniors do not want to sit on a bench in the blazing sun.

Communities need to be building  green spaces where people can come and explore and sit for a while.  Places where social distancing can be practised routinely.  Places like The City of Thunder Bay's Friendship Gardens or The Thunder Bay Centennial Botanical Conservatory. On June 7th, 2021, Thunder Bay's City council unanimously approved a multi-million dollar renewal plan for the aging Conservatory facility, and are moving ahead with a comprehensive renewal of the centennial botanical conservatory, spending up to $4.67 million. That was the right thing to do.

Amplify *small batch* ~  where a variety of micro-events or activities could take place catering to seniors active living and wellness.

Communities need to keep enhancing their sidewalks and walking/rolling pathways. Seniors and people with disabilities need easy to maneuver on sidewalks. No more cobblestones ~ they can be brutal on a wheelchair or walker, and are especially problematic for people with medical conditions where balance is an issue. Uneven pathways are a fail.

As we 'build back' our economies, municipal planners need to make some bold senior-friendly choices for infrastructure spending. Downtown areas that have a significant number of seniors living in buildings around the downtown area need municipal planners to better reflect the population in and around that core area. Seniors need more places to explore safely ~ Communities can harness the power of this transition.

For example, don't build splash-pads in a downtown area where there really aren't a lot of families with young children living. But there are a lot of seniors living in that same downtown core area, so plan for spaces that enhance their life.

Splash pads need grass and shady trees where families, baby-sitters, can put towels down and stretch out and make an afternoon out of it. A place where the ability to manage  children in a safe space are enhanced.  Splash pads belong in neighbourhood parks.  Bellevue Park in Sault Ste Marie, for example recently added a splash pad courtesy, the Kiwanis Club of Lakeshore. It's a great space for families ~ It's also in a location where people can spread out on the grass with a blanket and towel . Pack a picnic lunch and sit in some shade .

There are generally any number of places people can go swimming ~ and tourists who come to a community's downtown aren't going there to visit a splash pad ~ They're going to the downtown for food, music, shopping, cultural events. Chances are, tourists are staying at a hotel with a pool.  In the summer, they are likely heading to any number of beaches that are in close proximity to a community, especially ones that surround any of the Great Lakes.

Taking into account some of the lessons learned through Covid, this would be a good time to examine where we are in planning for seniors now, and into the future. It's a good time for municipalities  to set an agenda to reflect on what we value as a community. Taking this time to vision and put into place a plan for infrastructure that supports seniors will, in turn, support a universal mission towards accessible spaces without barriers throughout a community.

Creating accessible and age friendly spaces go hand - in- hand. If a curb is too high for someone, a senior, to lift their leg up and onto because of debilitating osteoarthritis, that is a fail.  Fortunately there has already been a lot of work done in researching Age Friendly Spaces. Enabling the Creation of Age-Friendly Physical Environments and Spaces is part of the Canadian Federal Government's National Senior Strategy.

According to the report, in an age-friendly community:

  • outdoor areas and public buildings are pleasant, safe and accessible
  • housing is affordable, safe and well designed for seniors
  • roads and walkways are accessible and kept in good shape
  • public transportation is affordable and accessible
  • neighbourhoods are safe
  • relationships are respectful
  • health and community support services are available
  • opportunities for seniors to be socially active exist
  • seniors can take part in volunteer, political and employment positions; and
  • information is easy to find and easy to understand.

In 2007, the W.H.O. (World Health Organization) launched its Age-Friendly Communities (AFCs) initiative to promote a more thoughtful approach to the development of communities that could promote the health and well-being of people of all ages, and especially the ageing population.

An age-friendly community is defined as one that recognizes the great diversity amongst older persons, promotes their inclusion and contributions in all areas of community life, respects their decisions and lifestyle choices, and anticipates and responds flexibly to ageing-related needs and preferences. Essentially, they are places that encourage active ageing by optimizing opportunities for health, participation, and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.

Furthermore, creating a culture that respects and includes older people will foster strong connections and personal empowerment.

The Ontario Government has a guide with great resources, called Creating a more inclusive Ontario: age-friendly community planning guide for municipalities and community organizations.

It's a fact ~ Seniors in Canada are a rapidly growing segment of the population and are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations. In 2014, over 6 million Canadians were aged 65 or older, representing 15.6 percent of Canada's population ~ In 2017, that amounted to  about 6.2 million seniors.

Over the next 20 years, Canada's seniors population — those age 65 and older — is expected to grow by 68%. Over the last 40 years, it has more than tripled in size. Between 1977 and 1997, the seniors population grew from about 2 million to 3.5 million.

In the fall of 2014, Canada's federal government published  a report: 'Government of Canada — Action for Seniors report'. There's no shortage of research on seniors and age-friendly community development. It's going to take pressure and action at the grassroots level when municipalities and cities are setting annual budgets. Share your vision with a municipal councillor, mayor, alder-person, reeve, MPP, MP, Congress member and so on. Citizen mobilization has always been the most effective strategy for moving agendas forward.  

Baby boomers have quietly entered senior-hood, and have joined a diverse group of citizens who are among the most politically active voices and lobby groups on the planet. Senior citizens, when mobilized, are a formidable force. Zoomer nation is pretty huge.

Becoming an age-friendly community is an ongoing process. To help communities with this process, the Public Health Agency of Canada in collaboration with key partners developed the Pan-Canadian Age-Friendly Communities Milestones. They recognize that communities have different needs and available resources. By adopting a "milestones approach" that focuses on the process, communities can successfully become more age-friendly.

We need more of this, as evidenced in a recent tweet to Canada's federal Minister for Seniors, MP Deb Schulte.

This is the perfect time to share your ideas with elected officials on the issue of planning age-friendly communities ~ to share your ideas with organizations that intersect with senior living. What have you got to lose? Nothing. What have you got to gain? An enhanced senior life.

Northern Ontario 
Kenora, Rainy River, Dryden, Thunder Bay, Terrace Bay Marathon, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Ontario 

#LSN_Sudbury #LSN_SSM LSN_TBay

Shades of North


Lynne Brown 
Lynne Brown

Algoma writer and reporter. Has written for special editions Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal ~ freelance contributor to Anishinabek News, Lake Superior News. Former Content Director Superior Media. Lynne developed 'Seniors Calling' as a regular feature for various publications. In the 80’s, Lynne worked for AutoTrader Magazine in rural Southwestern Ont. Trudging through a farmers’ field for a picture of a 56 Dodge Custom Royal was considered a very good day.

Lynne is mom to Kyle and Benjamin and a former resident of rural Thunder Bay. 

Special interests include issues relating to rural life, seniors, travel, history, community development and indigenous peoples. @dlynnebrown on twitter 

Disclaimer
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by Lake Superior News / Lake Superior Media.

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