Age-Friendly Canada: Time to Reboot!

Part One: Updating the Context

In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) produced the Global Age-Friendly Cities guide, the result of a two-year project that involved the participation of 33 cities around the world, including four from Canada – Halifax, Portage La Prairie, Saanich and Sherbrooke. Canada hosted the first 2006 meeting of this group in Vancouver. One of the leadership connections to this global initiative is Canadian, Louise Plouffe, who along with Alexandre Kalache from Brazil, directed the entire project from its conception in 2005.

Here we are ten years after that conception. Where are we now? On a global basis, the Age-Friendly movement has grown and over 280 communities are now active in the actual WHO network, proclaimed now as an Age-Friendly World. You can browse the directory on the site and look for the city profiles.

age-friendly-in-practice-460pxBut what of Saanich BC for example; one of the original cities in the WHO project, for some reason not in this new directory? The 2014 update on their Age-Friendly website shows one particular initiative, the “Trust Me” Project Inter-generational Dialogues, which is in harmony with our Planet Longevity theme this year around “Inter-generational Connections”. Full marks for this, we hope it is still ongoing.

In Canada, there are well over 1000 Age-Friendly projects underway and in Ontario alone this year, the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Program, under the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat Action Plan for Seniors, has funded $1.5 million to 56 communities to roll out projects that are to be complete by March 2017.

In Ontario, one can say that we now have some significant traction on age-friendly community planning, boosted by this modest amount of funding. The general scope of this grant is to encourage communities, who may or may not have a full grasp of the age-friendly initiative, to conduct needs assessments and evaluations for the development of age-friendly action plans for their community.

Yet most of the current communities, including some of the 56 funded this year, do not have a large organizational structure or budget, and are led by inspired volunteer community leaders and concerned citizens at large, trying to make a difference. Some have local community partnerships, information-filled web sites and promote regular community events. Some do not.

While the world is concerned about the effect of population aging, meeting the needs of an older demographic in urban environments, one way to help with the effectiveness of an age-friendly plan, is to cultivate a sensibility that this is not exclusively a dialogue for seniors. Public consultations and research in these Ontario communities over the next 18 months will ideally engage conversations with inter-generational perspectives that we are so keen to see.

This links to what is stated in the WHO Age-Friendly World site: “An age-friendly city fosters solidarity among generations within communities, facilitating social relationships and bonds between residents of all ages. Opportunities for residents from different backgrounds and demographics to interact and get to know each other facilitates community integration.”

So with this in mind, as we enter this Age-Friendly second decade – it is time for a reboot!


Mark Venning

Global Scenarios for an Era of Longevity

“How we live in an era of longevity – the miracle bequeathed to us from 20th century advances… paradoxically creates several challenges…” Dr. Michael Hodin, Executive Director, Global Coalition on Aging

In about three short weeks (Feb.9, 2015) in London at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs will host an event titled “Ageing & Health: Policy & Health in an Era of Longevity”. The speakers are from an A-list of international experts in the subject area of Global Aging & Longevity. Dr. Michael Hodin is the Chair of the opening session on Adjusting to Population Aging. His observations and insights are always well balanced and engaging.

One of the other excellent speakers I have heard speak here in Canada at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research is Dr. Alexandre Kalache, Co-President of the International Longevity Centre. He is leading the session focused on Health Priorities for Aging Populations. A Canadian-based speaker on the Chatham House program is Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the International Federation on Ageing. She is also a Board Member of Toronto’s Baycrest Centre.

While all these conversations on aging and health generate discussion at a higher level with global thought leaders in the front row at Chatham House, the next important level to reach with this conversation may be more of a walk down the steps, to the street level – the park bench, the coffee shop.

Every-day people are experiencing the “miracles and the challenges” of this era of longevity and they are talking; and even if it is pure individual storytelling, listening as I do to the “on the street story”, the gathering volume of evidence suggests that people are looking for new realistic options; not just re-tinkered public policies based on an older-framed narrative.

As we look at the obvious needs that are projected in our 21st century global scenarios (whether that’s 2020 or 2040), what the individual needs help with right now is how they can better understand their immediate aging & health circumstance, in a non-complex way within the context of that bigger picture. Consequently, if you are a business, a government or an NGO, you should engage the aging and health conversation with every-day people from a position not of fear of financial burden but cross-generational social investment.

And one thing not to forget, is that this macro trend of aging & longevity exists alongside several major global scenarios that dominate headlines, and somehow they are all interconnected economically, politically and socially.
Mark Venning