One summer conversation, between 60-somethings, on mapping the journey along the urban way went like this:
“We have plans to move now that Bob and I – well we are getting older you know – we think it’s time to look at getting out of the big city while we still can. We’re going rural, looking for a spot out in the country.”
While we still can? Made it sound like an escape line you would hear from an old black & white horror movie, in the scene before Godzilla is about to destroy the city.
Yet that conversation does not reflect the only version of moving home in later life. No, choosing to go rural is not the most common option, at least for those I know of, who still live in Toronto or other small and large cities. As it goes, I did move out of the big city well over a decade ago but not for the reason that I was getting older, nor was it a Godzilla scare about getting out. All I did was choose to move to a smaller urban area not far from the larger one.
Moving along the urban way for me was made for several other personal reasons at the time, but when I was making the decision about where I would prefer to live, I answered one tall question that I tend to ask myself first, – “What kind of creature are you?” Self I replied, “I’m an urban creature.” Not by chance therefore, my choice of a smaller urban environment resembles my previous suburban environment in west end Toronto, but it has a distinct character and feel of a small town.
Urban migration, trickling down through all age cohorts
Over the last few years, this migration of reasonably affluent 60-somethings or older urbanites has taken centre stage, and the decision of moving to small, versus staying in large urban areas, seems to be where the point of debate hinges. Canada and the US are not the only places in the world where this discussion is taking place. Nor is the urban migration conversation limited to older segments of the population; this is also trickling down through all age cohorts, even if it is often for differing reasons.
In an August 9th blog post by Kenneth Howse, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing – titled “Are urban environments best for an ageing population?” he commented on a recent talk he gave at an annual Future Cities conference in Cambridge England. He admits borrowing the title for his post from a 2012 article in the Guardian.
Commenting on some of his research for his Cambridge talk, Howse cited that, “A close-knit neighbourhood (and 55% of older homeowners said their neighbourhood was indeed close-knit) could make up for some urban inconveniences or ugliness.”
But it isn’t always that a current city location is necessarily ugly, or even close-knit that entices someone to move, or not. Apart from financial, the range can swing between a closer proximity to younger family, to a simple desire for a change of pace. Back to – What kind of creature are you? How does any urban area satisfy your needs for basic amenities and access to support systems? What makes you think that your next move will be your last move? These are not age related questions.
Wider aging demographic bandwidth, along the urban way
Several years on since that 2012 Guardian article, that I do recall reading at the time, where Tim Smedley opens with a line “… cities don’t always seem the most old-age friendly of places”, it is worth noting that more urban centres (large and small) have adopted the 2007 WHO Age-Friendly Cities model. This positively makes the case that more people are conscious of the fact that the urban way is the way of the future. That rural dream may be for some, but if we accept global prognostications – cities are where it’s happening.
Smedley got it wrong when he said “old-age friendly”. Phrasing it that way only goes to further damage the intent of what I think the age-friendly movement hoped to do. Still sadly, perceptions like these of “age-friendly” do tend to float the notion that it’s all about accommodating seniors. Pitching it to sound that way is a mistake.
If you really look today at the wide swath of so called aging population, it shapes itself, as in so many reports, studies and marketing pieces, those over age 50 – which is now beginning to include early Generation X. If all of us in that bandwidth see our longevity patterns anywhere up to another 20 to 40 years or more, then we all have a stake in charting out a more convenient, less ugly life for all ages, mapping our journey along the urban way.