The Active Neighbour Series, Episode 2: Age Friendly Transport with Deb Lee
How do Calgarians get around, what barriers get in their way, and what opens the flood gates to let them explore?
In this series you will meet fellow Calgarians and learn about their experiences using active transportation in our city. How do they get around – is it fun or infuriating? Easy or challenging? The folks I speak with will share not only their own experiences, but also their solutions to common active transportation problems.
The second conversation in the series took place with Deb Lee, a self-proclaimed “over-involved Bridgeland resident”. We met at Baya Rica Café in Bridgeland for a walk through the community she knows so well. I wanted to talk with Deb to get a sense of how older adults are faring when it comes to active transportation in our city.
Deb has a long history of working with older adults. Before her retirement, she was a clinical nurse specializing in gerontology. Today, she is a board member of the Bridgeland Riverside Community Association (BRCA), sits on several committees including the BRCA Beautification Committee, contributes regularly to the Bridges Newsletter, and leads year-round walking groups through the neighbourhood. To say the least, Deb is busy. Yet she took some time to walk with me, opening my eyes to the active transportation barriers that exist, even in a neighbourhood as “walkable” as Bridgeland.
So, maybe you’re reading this, and you’re able-bodied. Maybe you’re young, fit, and can climb over a snowbank in a jiffy – and it’s got you wondering…
Why is it important for me to care about this?
Simply put, we are all going to age. In fact, by 2041, 1 in 4 Canadians (over 10 million of us!) will be a senior. That’s your siblings, your parents, your friends, and yes, even you. But is the community you live in built for you to live a full and healthy life as you age? Well, according to the Institute for Research on Public Policy, not really. They say that cities need to fix “the impact of decades-old car dependent suburban sprawl that leaves less mobile seniors isolated” (p.1). Deb has seen many seniors, who have spent their lives relying on cars, at a complete loss for how to get around and stay involved when they can no longer drive.
The isolation that follows, Deb says, is a real problem. And the research agrees. Isolated seniors are four to five times more likely to be hospitalized and are at an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and dementia compared to someone who is socially engaged.
Deb says that many of the transportation services exist to take people to and from appointments. But what about social events that could make people more included and engaged?
Isolation not only impacts the seniors themselves, but also the communities and cities they live in. In 2012, Canadians over 65 contributed over 1 billion hours of volunteer work. This is an almost unfathomable contribution, but it is only possible for people to make when they have reliable, safe transportation to get them there.
If someone can no longer drive, can they still contribute? Is their community set up to include and support them?
These questions are very relevant in the community of Bridgeland; a walkable, inner city community and home to nearly twice the population of seniors compared to the rest of Calgary. Many of these seniors reside in affordable housing in Riverside, located at the bottom of a steep hill and next to busy Memorial Drive. The built and natural environment creates an island effect, isolating Bridgeland seniors from the main street and amenities the community offers.
Ward 9 councillor, Gian-Carlo Carra, recognizes the exclusion this causes. In his response to Alberta Health’s plan to build a complex care facility in the area, he addresses the need to better include Bridgeland’s seniors, saying:
Just like her councillor, Deb has spent a lot of time thinking about this and looking for solutions. For a time, she led what she called “conversation cafés” at one of the residences. The group often discussed ways their community could be improved. What was great? What was missing? What many people wanted, Deb says, was a Tim Hortons. I could see why. Though the area has several beautiful green spaces, there is no “all season” location outside of their buildings to get together, nowhere to walk, roll, or scooter to year-round that ends at a hot coffee and a good chat.
Yet, even if there was a great coffee shop to meet up with your peers, there are risks built into the very environment that may make the journey there not only difficult, but impossible. It was February when we talked, so the snow became a big part of our conversation.
As we walked, we encountered snowbanks piled up at crosswalks, and twice we weren’t even noticed by passing cars. I imagined if someone was lower to the ground, using a wheelchair or scooter, it would be nearly impossible for them to be seen by drivers. That is, if they could make it over the heaps of snow at the curb cuts in the first place. This is important, as 1 in 4 to nearly 1 in 2 Canadians over the age of 65 experience a disability. Of those, 85 % – 90% use a mobility aid (a cane, walker, wheelchair, or scooter).
But the patches of ice and the snow piled up at bus stops and crosswalks weren’t the only things that hampered our walk. Deb pointed out the lack of crosswalks and crosswalk markers (flashing lights and bright signs). As we were waiting at the crosswalk, I had to poke my head out and wave to be noticed by the passing cars.
Changing the way our city clears snow, marks crosswalks, and builds active transportation infrastructure can help to create more age-friendly communities. This is a community where policies, services, and the built environment are created to allow older adults to live safe, healthy, and connected lives. This looks like wide and well-lit sidewalks, accessible buildings, affordable transit, and pleasant outdoor areas. Who wouldn’t like that? Age-friendly communities don’t only benefit those who are older (which will one day be all of us!), they benefit everyone. Let’s create friendly communities for all Calgarians, no matter their age, to be engaged, connected, and supported.
Alberta Health is going to be building a health campus in Bridgeland – Gian-Carlo Carra speaks to their plan here:
Click here to read about Calgary’s Age-Friendly Strategy: http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/CNS/Documents/seniors/Seniors_Age_Friendly_Strategy.pdf
If you would like to contact your councillor to address these issues, you can find their contact information here: http://www.calgary.ca/CityCouncil/Pages/Councillors-and-Wards.aspx
If you live in Ward 9 you can provide your councillor with feedback on current snow clearing practices: http://www.gccarra.ca/ward-9-newsroom/2018/1/snow-removal-survey
Past Sustainable Calgary blogs on this topic:
Five Fast Facts – What Does our Aging Population Need?
Talking about Winter Walking: Winter Retrospective 1 of 3
City of Calgary. (n.d.). The City of Calgary Community Profiles: Part A – Demographics, Bridgeland/Riverside. Retrieved from http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/CNS/Documents/community_social_statistics/bridgeland-riverside.pdf
Government of Canada. (2014). Action for Seniors Report. Employment and Social Development Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/seniors-action-report.html#tc2a
Government of Canada. (2014). Report on the social isolation of seniors. National Seniors Council. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/national-seniors-council/programs/publications-reports/2014/social-isolation-seniors/page05.html
Miller, G. (March 2017). No place to grow old – how Canadian suburbs can become age-friendly. Institute for Research of Public Policy. IRPP Insight No. 14. Retrieved from http://irpp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/insight-no14.pdf
Public Health Agency of Canada. (2016). Age-friendly communities. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/aging-seniors/friendly-communities.html#sec1
Statistics Canada. (December 2013). Disability in Canada: Initial findings from the Canadian Survey on Disability. Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2013002-eng.htm
Statistics Canada. (2015). A profile of persons with disabilities among Canadians aged 15 years or older, 2012. Catalogue no. 89-654-X. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2015001-eng.pdf