Who could argue with anyone in their later life, (as for example with the two women in their 80s featured in the CBC News piece – Vertical City), when they say they want to age in place with independence in their own condo as long as possible? After all, as one Julie Beddoes said in the article, “I’ve always dreaded being somewhere where I’m not part of the bigger world.” Spoken like a true urban social creature.
Certainly, I would not argue with her. But not everyone wants the same things, and would prefer to be in one of those highly marketed “seniors” or “retirement” residences where socialization is obtained, all be it most often contained to the age cohort within. Depending on where those buildings are located and how well designed they are to meld within the surrounding community, there may be very little connectivity with that bigger world outside.
Not all condo stories are exactly the same, as I said in Part 1. In some cases, there are condos in an urban environment, we could suppose are considered part of that bigger world, but which still may only be known by the community as a virtual vertical village of “seniors”, stacked in a busy high density neighbourhood. Other condos have an age demographic mix, which in my mind is the better situation if you want that inter-generational bigger world connection, even if you choose not to get down on the street some days.
However, as with making a decision to move to or stay in a neighbourhood, (house or condo), it still involves the same research process at any age and stage in life. Making the choice of a condo, and to make condo living work, has to be taken in context of how neighbourly it is within the building as much as it is outside in the wider neighbourhood. You also have to apply foresight and find out how urban planning may change the texture of the community in years to come.
Time to change the city language to Age-Inclusive
In the CBC’s Vertical City article by Alexandra Sienkiewicz, the Age-Friendly Cities initiative as introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007 is referenced as being included in Ontario’s Action Plan for Seniors. After a solid decade to varying degrees across the province, this has been a slowly growing project, and not all cities are quite up to speed. My sense is that unless you have forward thinking active Age-Friendly promoters in your urban setting, the likelihood that your condo is educated on this is pretty slim and therefore an opportunity.
After researching and observing this noble enterprise develop in Ontario over the last five years, I’ve come to the conclusion that unless you change the language to Age-Inclusive, you run the risk of making the term “age-friendly” come across as all about seniors, which in my mind is not striking the right inter-generational chord. Conversations have to involve those who will be, a decade or two from now, that later life condo dweller.
Mary Ellen Tomlinson, my colleague at Senior Care Options in Toronto summarizes it well:
“Aging in place is a shared reality for everyone living in a condo setting not just for seniors. The Vertical City has brought a new meaning to the term “aging in place”. Condos are the new village where people live cheek by jowl in multi-level buildings for any number of years. Young families, some with tots and school-aged children, millennials and older people share the community space offered by the condo buildings and the municipal public spaces where the condo is situated.”
So as it were, Mary Ellen goes on to say – “The Jane Jacobs’s New York neighbourhoods of front door stoops and fire hydrants gushing water on to streets in hot weather is now adapting to a newer style shared vertical community spaces. No stoops, no gushing fire hydrants. Spa, activity rooms and other amenities are the new offerings.”
Jane Jacobs. On her front porch in Toronto 2004.
Accommodating a condo for “age-friendly” criteria should be mindful of the generational mix. In Later Life Condos in a New Naked City – Part 3, Mary Ellen Tomlinson and I will talk through a little more about some of the age-friendly criteria and how the social aspects such as informal networks and new versions of “front porch” dialogues, with condo Boards included, might influence changes ahead.