Age-Friendly Canada: Time to Reboot!

Part Three

As a postscript to part two of Age-Friendly Canada: Time to Reboot, we leave off here with some general thoughts around brand messaging. The Age-Friendly concept is a growing movement and that is a good thing. Some cities globally, including in Canada, grabbed on to this early on and some more recently, and are largely hosted by local Seniors councils or groups, supported further by municipal and provincial governments. Some communities are still deliberating.

So – Age-Friendly Community. What if you are a citizen, walking the streets of your city or town and you never heard of this phrase before? You don’t know it is a global initiative launched a decade ago. How does it sound when you hear it? How does it relate to you as you actually read about it?

How would you pitch age-friendly?

Considering this WHO initiative, once explained, builds intelligently around eight key themes, as illustrated by a flower petal graphic; how would you pitch it in 50 words or less to someone of any age without any screen shots on an app or notes in your hand to prompt you? How about we start with this version in 49 words:

“An age-friendly city (community) encourages active ageing by optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age. In practical terms, an age-friendly city adapts its structures and services to be accessible to and inclusive of older people with varying needs and capacities” WHO 2007

Perhaps well said in 17 words – Bernard Isaacs, (leading Gerontology professor in the UK who died twenty years ago in 1995), was once quoted saying; “Design for the young and you exclude the old. Design for the old and you include everyone.” By this, we are to mean of course in this context – community design.

Reshape age-friendly marketing language

The first temptation for many I listen to, who live and breathe the Age-Friendly discussion, is to either get easily lost in the words of this multi-layered concept, and/or in many cases, turn it more into a Seniors-exclusive monologue, making it at first passing, potentially less resonant to that someone of any age.

At second passing, if you look at the well-intentioned messaging on many city Age-Friendly web sites, the tone of the content and the visuals supporting the brand messaging further frame the dialogue with the same Seniors monologue texture. Yet as we know, demographics are shifting, not only at the Boomer cohort level; Gen X for example is now tipping into their early 50’s and well, you know the rest.

If Age-Friendly brand messaging is going to reach more people, then the leaders and thinkers currently dedicated to the dialogue, have to look outwards to include, or at least induce a more direct line of sight to a value conversation for younger cohorts at the life stage they are at currently. A reshape of Age-Friendly marketing language is advantageous at this time – entering its second decade, to reboot the messaging and engage inter-generational voices.

After meeting and talking with people in all age cohorts about Age-Friendly over the past year, I have been encouraged, enough to say that there is more opportunity for moderating forums through stronger, targeted invitation in such a way that it matters to more people of any age.

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Worth a look lastly, one maybe not so small example at how it can be done – full respect to Age-friendly Belfast and their Intergenerational Guide and Toolkit.

 

Mark Venning

Age-Friendly Canada: Time to Reboot!

Part Two

Promoting Age-Friendly awareness in communities in Canada came closer to home these last few months, with special significance to Planet Longevity; as one of our panelists, Suzanne Cook, is now a participant in two of the recent 56 community grant projects awarded in the Ontario the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Program, under the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat Action Plan for Seniors.

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Suzanne will serve in an academic research advisory role in both cases – Cobourg and Peterborough; as these communities conduct needs assessments with an eye to develop an action plan for age-friendly programs, or build on existing age-friendly initiatives. Along with her passion for forward thinking on aging issues, Suzanne is a Gerontologist who also brings to the table, her expertise as a Ph.D. in Adult Education and Community Development.

With particular emphasis on the issue of affordable housing, the Cobourg based project title is “Northumberland County’s Plan for Positive Aging”. What is a common thread in so many age-friendly initiatives such as this one, is the collaborative nature of community partnerships, including individual citizens, businesses and not-for-profits; Habitat for Humanity in the Northumberland project.

Inter-generational community engagement

Suzanne Cook has great insights on positive aging and inter-generational learning as evidenced by her work at York University teaching a Sociology of Aging course, where she engaged students with older adults. In my conversation with her about these community projects, we discussed how important it is in this needs assessment process, to reach out to a broad range of people for community engagement at an inter-generational level. How and to what extent this happens in any of the 56 Ontario projects remains to be seen.

At some point, let us hope that the messaging about age-friendly, which was designed to be inclusive, doesn’t end up becoming a dialogue in a seniors-centric bubble. Here’s an idea! Let’s take the age-friendly discussion to high schools as a class project, asking teens who have grandparents how they would improve the environment for an age-friendly community. The top three classes with the best ideas gets to present to an Age-Friendly Council at a pizza party.

No question we need to consult with older citizens, who on many levels of limited access and mobility, are already experiencing first-hand the need for a community that works better for them and meets their needs. The reboot in this second decade of the global Age-Friendly movement is about the way we message the positive relevancy of it, for the generations who are fast becoming our elder caregivers and future beneficiaries of the choices we make today.
Mark Venning