The world’s aging population
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that the share of the world’s population aged 60 or over will double from 11% in 2006 to 22% by 2050. In Canada, the 2016 census found that for the first time in the country’s history, there are more seniors aged 65 and older than there are children aged 14 and younger. Looking towards the future, projections suggest that by 2056, seniors will comprise up to 30% of the Canadian population. WSP’s Future Ready program helps us to see the future more clearly and design for it today.
The implications of population aging for almost every aspect of society, including public services, infrastructure, and labour markets, will be profound. For example, governments must consider how programs can be communicated effectively to a population with highly variable levels of digital literacy. Those planning transportation systems and public spaces must consider the needs of a greater proportion of users with mobility limitations. Workplace training and management must adapt to an increasing proportion of employees working beyond a conventional retirement age.
To help communities respond proactively to this demographic trend, the WHO has developed a comprehensive framework for age-friendly community planning. It is based on eight community dimensions that include both “hard” and “soft” planning considerations: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services.
Age-friendly community action plans
Since 2014, WSP staff have worked with eight municipalities in BC and Ontario to develop age-friendly community action plans using the WHO framework, to help these communities meet the local challenges associated with demographic change. Our projects have won provincial awards in Ontario, and initiatives arising from the projects have received grant funding in Ontario and BC. We are in the early stages of similar planning processes with other municipalities in Ontario and Nova Scotia.
The communities we have worked with are both urban and rural. They range from tight-knit villages of 650 residents to culturally diverse cities of nearly 600,000. All told, our age-friendly projects have impacted over 730,000 people. We partner with municipal staff and local stakeholders to consider each community’s strengths and opportunities for improvement through an age-friendly “lens” or point of view. We work together to identify actions and strategies that will make their community a better place to live at every stage of life.
Applying an age-friendly lens
An age-friendly lens can be applied to many overlapping areas that affect municipalities. Some key ones that have emerged during our projects are:
Development planning: Age-friendly plans consider how planning and development policies can help build complete communities that work for residents of all ages. For example, the Town of Caledon, Ontario will be reviewing its Official Plan policies to meet age-friendly objectives identified by its upper-tier municipality, the Region of Peel. The new policies aim to ensure the design of developing communities supports a variety of housing types and the use of transportation other than private cars.
Urban design and public works: Age-friendly plans look at how urban design guidelines and public works practices can support inclusive public spaces. For example, based on a recommendation included in its age-friendly plan, the City of North Bay, Ontario, reviewed its public works practices to explore how winter maintenance of sidewalks and bus stops could improve access and safety for people with limited mobility.
Transportation planning: Age-friendly plans consider how transportation policies and infrastructure can improve all residents’ access to employment and services. For example, based on an objective identified in its age-friendly plan, the Municipality of St.-Charles, Ontario and its community partners received grant funding to develop a community transportation system to improve access to health services and shopping for rural residents who do not drive.
Parks and recreation: Age-friendly plans look at how recreation planning and relationships with local community organizations can contribute to inclusion and reduce social isolation. For example, following the completion of an age-friendly plan for the Village of Keremeos, BC, the Village received grant funding to develop an outdoor fitness park that can promote more active use of municipal park space by older adults.
Communications: Age-friendly plans consider how communications practices can improve awareness of programs and services, increase civic engagement, and support age-friendly efforts in other focus areas. For example, based on an objective set out in its age-friendly action plan, the Township of Dubreuilville considered ways to promote the cross-posting of municipal and community information in a range of formats accessible to users with varying print and digital literacy skills.
Community and government partnerships: Age-friendly plans consider how stakeholders can improve the way they work together to deliver an effective range of community and health services. For example, in the County of Frontenac, Ontario, partnerships between the municipality, local housing developers and community agencies serving older adults are resulting in the development of small-scale accessible, affordable seniors’ housing units throughout the County.
Are you Future Ready?
WSP’s Future Ready program helps us to see the future more clearly and design for it today. As we continue to learn new lessons through our age-friendly projects, WSP is increasingly well-positioned to help communities respond to future demographic trends. By 2050, more than 10 million Canadians aged 65 and over will want to be living in age-friendly communities. The time to begin planning is now.