Condos in general have their unique dynamics – social engagement and operational finances to name but two. And those who have chosen to live in urban condo dwellings will know that there are enough issues that percolate, (and sometimes boil over), in and out of the occasion of the Annual General Meeting. Adding the aging in place discussion on the agenda – quite simply put – by and large gets no mention at all.
Where do you start the list of reasons? When condo boards have a hard time functioning within the rules (even if the relationship with the management company is good), the heavy weighting given to time spent focused on items such as reserve funds, building upgrades and owner compliance issues, doesn’t always leave room for what are perceived to be “feel good” matters like aging in place.
As with the example in the CBC’s Vertical City article by Alexandra Sienkiewicz, the two women (Tyndale & Beddoes) took their own initiative to form a group of seniors in their condo to “discuss condo living challenges and educate themselves on latest government policies”. Self-advocacy at work. But from what I observe in my building and some of the stories I’ve heard about life in other condos, the most you might get is an ad-hoc social committee.
So what happens if we truly look at that “wave of seniors” that Sienkiewicz describes, starting to dominate the demographic mix of a condo building? If you have a condo with 200 units and 25 percent are owned and/or rented by older residents, does that not provide enough of a signal that it’s time for the Board to be proactive and review those policies and discuss more openly those challenges that people face in later life condo living?
Don’t keep age-friendly conversations exclusive to only seniors in the building.
Can you imagine a group of older residents, meeting covertly over several months in the party room writing a manifesto for senior condo living to present to the Board and management office? It reminds me of a quote from Theodore Roszak’s book Longevity Revolution:
“The increasing life expectancy of the modern world may be the only clear measure of progress all people can agree on…. It is time to start finding a good social use for those extra years. As a political project, that is a novel undertaking….Just as no utopian thinker ever looked over the historical horizon and saw a world of elderly people waiting to create the good society, no revolutionary ever looked for a following among the old”
Not to sound over the top and propose that a militant movement is to be found lurking, phantom-like in the condo party room. It should however, at least be a wake-up call for all condo dwellers to bring forward to their Board, these challenges around an age inclusive neighbourhood in what is an inter-generational vertical village. But if you are looking for supporters in the education process like a Tyndale & Beddoes, I suggest that you don’t keep the conversation exclusive to only those seniors in the building.
Government Seniors Action Plans aside, even if you start with the Age-Friendly Cities Guide introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007 – applied it to the vertical village and looked for the commonalities for people of all ages to discuss that would be a good start. While aging in place is not the focused term in the WHO Guide, the phrase active ageing is, and as the guide is careful to mention, “Because active ageing is a lifelong process, an age-friendly city is not just elderly friendly”. Using that other substitute word, neither is it just senior friendly.
So sticking with age friendly for our purposes here, as it relates to condo living, as Mary Ellen Tomlinson of Senior Care Options recommends that if you are choosing an age-friendly condo to live in your later life, consider as a starter on the menu these questions:
- Is the condo in the right location for walkability, accessibility, easy access to needed health services, food shopping and entertainment?
- Is the condo emergency policy in place is the policy clearly stated, and regularly tested?
- Is there a mix of generations to keep older people invigorated, but not overwhelmed?
- Is there a potential for an informal network of friends or acquaintances to act as support service?
- Is there an onsite concierge service?
As I think back to the line from the original Naked City crime-based film noir of 1948 and the follow up TV series, – “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them” – in all our modern tall buildings, aging in place may end up being not so friendly for some lonely souls we never see from that forlorn looking unit down the hall. So maybe as these souls look for inspiration, the new line for a new naked city exposed, belongs to Julie Beddoes – “We want to be out in the world.”
One might argue then, that the term aging in place can have an undertone of sedentariness or seclusion, which might find a focus of concern in two of those elements in the WHO age-friendly model – Respect and Social Inclusion & Social Participation. With that in mind, maybe instead of aging in place, it could be a case of living longer – actively in place!