Age-Friendly: Progress in Peterborough 2017

In follow-up to the Planet Longevity July blog post Age-Friendly: Ten Years On, 2007-2017, here it is fitting and timely that we now have in our hands to share, the Peterborough, Ontario – Age-Friendly Community Action Plan, released in June 2017. This plan summary is a wonderful piece of work, reflecting the careful and thoughtful process this community engaged in over a number of years, further supported through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

AFP Plan-Cover-graphic

 

One of the striking things that pops out immediately in the reading is the language of inclusiveness and in particular referring to the ongoing needs of “older adults”. Full praise for the consistency of use of this term, as it lends itself to imagine a population that is broader and more diverse in nature than what that tired word seniors evokes. Language is a quirky thing. You even hear younger adults now say how tired they are, being referred to as millennials.

At the risk of creating a distraction from the positive message of the Age-Friendly movement, for a moment it is worth poking the dialogue to say that while there are those who don’t take any exception to being called a senior, there is however another newer wave of older adults out there who are less inclined to identify with that. Let future proponents of the Age-Friendly movement take note.

Though seniors is referenced in the content, which can’t be helped based on historical usage, it does not in this document take away from the underlying message of Age-Friendly. Having read and viewed a number of the Age-Friendly plans and websites, this Peterborough stands as a model example of how the language of age-friendly can connect the dots more succinctly for a wider audience.

As a comparative to Peterborough, the 2017 Oakville baseline study, referred to in my previous blog post, still leans too much on the term Seniors as opposed to older adults. As well composed as the Oakville baseline is, with recognition of the diversity of those over age 55, the mixed definer language breaks down the various older cohorts but it has a dated sound to it. Perhaps future updates, with more input from others will develop a different tone for an inter-generational conversation.

Noteworthy praise goes to Peterborough for weaving the inter-generational connections in its Age-Friendly plan (Page 35) while at the same time as recognizing the urban and rural distinctions of the greater region – and capturing the voice of the First Nations community which again is inclusive in the scope of the plan. Regionally and certainly within larger cities this cultural aspect is a significant part of the conversation that will need more attention as it fits within the eight dimensions of the 2007 WHO Age Friendly model.

Age-Friendly Peterborough is worth the download to read and learn.

 

Mark Venning

Age-Friendly: Ten Years On, 2007-2017

Some global movements start up with all the best of intentions, but not all pick up traction, nor given enough time to develop in the collective mind-share of the public. Initiatives such as Habitat for Humanity for example, which has roots going back to the mid 1970’s, stand out largely because the concept serves a basic need everyone can immediately identify with anywhere around the world; and of course gather celebrity endorsement and participation from the likes of people such as former US President Jimmy Carter.

Planet Longevity, since our beginning, continues to promote the Age-Friendly Cities initiative as first introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007. In 2015, we did a three part blog series titled Age Friendly Canada: Time for a Reboot suggesting that we still had a long way to go to elevate the awareness of what has steadily become a global movement.

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Now ten years on, (checking out the WHO Age-Friendly World website) – there are now 500 communities that have adopted this movement in 37 countries. Canada has 59 communities at various stages of development. My city, the Town of Oakville has finally nudged past the rudimentary public “survey stage” and released an initial Age-Friendly “baseline study” in January 2017 – approved by Town Council in April.

As was referenced in our October 2015 post, one of our Planet Longevity members Suzanne Cook, became a participant in two of 56 community grant projects awarded in the Ontario the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Program. Suzanne has served in an academic research advisory role for Cobourg and Peterborough, Ontario as these communities conducted needs assessments with an eye to develop action plans for age-friendly programs.

In the case of Peterborough, as reported in the June 23 Examiner “Age-Friendly Peterborough plan takes shape”, the process seems to have gone beyond the assessment phase and is now in front of their city council for adoption. As Trent University’s Elizabeth Russell, Faculty Fellow with the Trent Centre for Aging & Society, is quoted in the article: “…evidence… shows us that this type of planning is much more effective in the longer term…”

True enough, but taking a leaf from the book in the Habitat experience, the marketing messaging on Age-Friendly Communities could take on a sharper tone, for the basic human need for healthy active aging is relevant to all generations. Inter-generational connections is mentioned as one part of the Peterborough vision, but in order for that to happen, the language of age-friendly needs to connect the dots more succinctly than it currently does in order for the movement to grow into the next decade.

 

Mark Venning

Seniors? Captures a wider continuum of age.

A month away until Ontario’s 32nd annual Seniors’ Month and the 2016 theme is “Seniors Making a Difference”. Consider the fact if you will, that the word “Seniors” captures a very wide continuum of age. In some cases, depending on to whom the marketing is being directed, a so-called senior could be as early as age 55, extending to 105 or beyond. That’s a potential of fifty years of making a difference.

Seniors Month Web Eng

 

 

 

 

 

With that in mind, it makes the concept of extended lifetimes harder to decide – when does someone suddenly become a Senior?  No disrespect, but does the word senior perpetuate a stereotype or draw too rigid a definition of a segment of age in a society? Someone 55 may not identify with that word unless maybe you’re giving them a retail consumer discount. Is there a better word for an older person?

You don’t hear anyone calling Gen Y – “Juniors”. Well there is the organization Junior Achievement; let’s give you that. But even their branding is now JA Canada and the word junior has slid from the slide show.

When you think of it, when an organization like the National Institute on Ageing, (referenced in our last blog post), promotes a more up to date message, with the title for their upcoming conference being – “Rethink Ageing” – is it not time to consider a fresher approach to marketing a month dedicated to celebrating the contributions of older citizens?

Of course, the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat only tosses out a theme and offers a forum for local communities to host their own events with their own way of celebrating the month. Judging by the postings listed so far, with the 2016 province wide events starting at the end of May actually, the standard offerings range from free Seniors’ BBQ’s and Strawberry Socials, to Information sessions on community services and Seniors’ achievement awards.

Seniors and their Juniors (and often together), are making a difference all year long in their communities, some quietly, without expectation of a fanfare. In 2013, the Ontario government published its own Age-friendly Community Guide. Two of the key elements in the guide are social participation & respect and social inclusion. As we suggested last year, within these two elements, lie the benefits of having better inter-generational connections that are integral to the success of an age-friendly community.

Perhaps with a little more thought, some communities will be encouraged to look for a new line of sight for redefining Seniors, recognizing that no one can deny any one of any age, that “making a difference” is an ageless opportunity.

 

Mark Venning

Aging and longevity, a privileged experience.

As we look ahead into our third year at Planet Longevity, there is no doubt that the major themes around aging and longevity will continue to evolve from the ones we looked at in 2015. Topics like Inter-generational Connectivity and Age-Friendly Communities were frequently at the centre of our conversation generated here on our bi-weekly blog.

While we consider all this we should put into perspective the fact that though familiar, heavily discussed social and economic issues related to aging demographics (e.g. health care investments, pension reforms) will be ongoing for many years to come, we need to consider such issues as they unfold, alongside other immediate global realities that are currently adding to our challenges.

For example, right now, as we close out this year, the global refugee migration and resettlement crisis of over a million people is at the highest level it has been in about seventy years. The question is, for parts of the world like Europe, with high youth unemployment and an already high proportion of an elder population; how will this enormous tragedy be acknowledged and managed going forward?

Somehow this question, layered into other conversations on difficult world issues, will no doubt be at play into 2016. As we celebrate and promote an age-friendly society, let us not forget how positive aging and longevity is a privileged experience for those of us more fortunate and able to articulate it – and with systems and policies designed to better achieve it.

Perhaps the disruptive realities of millions of people on the other side of the world, are often perceived as being at a comfortable screen-distance away. But these events are not that distant, and neither will the next speed-driven twenty years be, as the world population experiences demographic shifts which may not turn out to be exactly as we project or envision.

It is with this in mind that we still need to encourage more innovations responsive to the changing dynamics of communities, inclusive of the needs of all ages and diverse cultural backgrounds. I have a strange suspicion that the outlooks we take in the future, on adapting for an aging society, will require even more of a demand for a global perspective. Is that perchance why we call this group – Planet Longevity?

With a sense of good will and purpose … and a serious amount of good fortune, as Theodore Roszak once said, “longevity will outlast the Boomers.”

Best wishes for the New Year – 2016!

 

Mark Venning

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

Top Five Spaces & Places for Inter-generational Relationships

In what ways can all generations engage and participate in a conversation and dialogue about greater longevity and a vibrant later life? An excellent start is to foster inter-generational relationships with intent, harness the power of inter-generational bonds and interactions, something that is largely untapped. Research indicates that these as perspectives, experiences and interactions are not commonly engaged in either direction – older to younger or younger to older.

One part of the Age Friendly Communities initiative needs to be to encourage and cultivate non-familial inter-generational interactions. Where are the best places to seek out inter-generational interactions?

Here are the five top places and spaces for inter-generational connections to thrive. These are through:

• volunteer and service work, as individuals from different generations contribute their time to the same cause or issue in the community

• the workplace, where individuals from different generations work, converse and solve problems together

• associations with neighbours when interacting with people living in the neighbourhood

• the broader community where individuals meet and speak with others as they engage in daily activities and daily interactions, living their lives; and

• learning and educational institutions, especially as inter-generational learning becomes more prevalent such as in the Sociology of Aging course I taught at York University

If the generations engage more readily in these five top places then the trigger questions for success are – how can dialogue and conversations be encouraged on meaningful issues of mutual concern? How can outward facing messages be stimulated that engage all ages in conversation, so that everyone benefits?

The top tip for strengthening inter-generational interactions is to encourage good listening skills. In this way, each individual will hear better across generations. Everyone is valued and respected. This is an excellent beginning and an excellent way to develop better inter-generational relationships.

It is also a great way to continue our vibrant Seniors’ Summer!

 

Suzanne Cook