The WHO Global Age-friendly Cities and Communities Network formed in 2010 as an evolutionary response to the 2007 publication of the WHO Age-friendly Cities Guide, which in itself took some sixteen years to develop from The United Nations Principles for Older Persons Resolution A/RES/46/91
For some time, I have tracked and learned a lot about the Age-friendly movement, activities and progress around the world, including at my recent attendance in August this year at the International Federation on Ageing conference in Toronto. From Korea and China to the USA and Canada and other countries, there were countless presentations on the status of the age-friendly movement around the world.
One of the great revelations from this event, at least for me, was that even though the WHO guide, built around a well-accepted Age-friendly Framework (AFC), each community, or city in every country has adopted it to their own design. This of course is a natural process when ideas meet reality, as community influencers respond to the unique needs, culture and local capacity to build it into an active model that works for them.
Today, 705 cities and communities in 39 countries are in this Global Network, and I wanted to hear an update on the status of where my own local community of Halton Region in Ontario, Canada stood as of 2018. As reported in my Nov.6 blog post, an Age-friendly Communities conversation hosted by the Sheridan College Centre for Elder Research and sponsored by Revera, was held at the Oakville Campus on Nov.29th, and so I went.
Bringing Age-Friendly home to Halton Region
Heather Thompson, Project Manager of the Burlington Age-Friendly Council presented. I should note here, Burlington is one of four cities/towns that make up that the Halton Region of Ontario, the other three being Milton, Halton Hills and Oakville. In addition to her role with Burlington’s council, Heather co-chairs the Halton Age-friendly Network.
Over several years, Heather has been actively dedicated at the grass roots level, to advancing Halton Region as a liveable community for older adults. None of the four communities in our region has filed an application to join the WHO Global Network, however as a great first step, the Halton Home Share Program is featured on the WHO website Age-friendly Practices database.
All that to say, as Heather did agree with me when we spoke briefly, the concept of Age-friendly communities is still largely unknown in our corner of the world. My city for example, the Town of Oakville, 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 that year, as of today we are still in slow motion, if not in stand still.
The Sheridan event was an opportunity to generate more awareness and of the thirty or so interested citizens who attended, I would say the awareness level ranged from somewhat aware to, aware but not engaged, to fully aware and looking for ways to engage. There was a decent representation of people of various ages, but the demographics leaned more to older adults who sounded to me to be active in some way in their community, wanting to learn how to do more.
Heather gave a very clear easy to understand outline of the history and content of the WHO age-friendly framework (AFC), with examples of how some of our local initiatives have thus far addressed each of the eight elements in the AFC. However, these Halton initiatives have been to a large degree limited and most of the funded activities are in Burlington, which received a 3-year grant in April 2016 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
Actually, the Ontario government Seniors’ Secretariat (now called Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility) began issuing Age-Friendly Community Planning Grants in 2014-15 to help whatever communities that wanted to get on board. A colleague of mine acted as an academic research advisor to two such communities and one of these is now a member in the WHO Global Network.
Let us take Age-friendly out of the realm of a strictly “seniors” issue.
Returning to Halton and the folks in the room last week at Sheridan College, what were their questions and observations for Heather Thompson? No surprises, but I note here two points that were mentioned and are very often either overlooked or underappreciated.
Ethnic or cultural diversity needs more open consideration within the Age-friendly community context and there tend to be silos operating within our communities with the result that there are often overlaps where multiple networks representing different groups are trying to achieve the same things. This spells opportunity for a more culturally integrated community and potential collaborations in grant writing proposals.
Lastly, the issue of affordable, accessible housing came up and as Heather quickly pointed out, it is about “housing for everybody”, which takes me full circle to one of my recurring points about the inter-generational context of the Age-Friendly movement. I truly wish there had been a few more younger people at this Sheridan event to get to hear their views. Perhaps next time, a facilitated group discussion, seeking out younger voices, would take Age-friendly out of the realm of a strictly “seniors” story.
There is a new 2018 status update report from the WHO now available titled –
As I have observed for some time, it’s time for a reboot on the Age-friendly language to market it better, so after a more careful read of this new WHO report I’ll add more comment in the next blog post.