CUI Committed to Helping Make Our Cities More Age-Friendly

By Glenn Miller

A new report with proposals for how to integrate the concept of age-friendly communities with municipal land use practices has just been published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy. Although I am the author, the fact that the paper exists at all is a credit to CUI’s extraordinary network of senior associates, interns and dedicated Board and staffers.

The paper makes three main points:

  • First, Canada’s population is aging quickly, and there is an urgent need to deal with the impact of having built hundreds of car-dependent suburbs across the country. What happens to older adults when they have to give up driving and essential amenities like grocery stores and medical facilities can’t be reached on foot?
  •  Second, with support from the province, all but two of Ontario’s 25 largest cities have signed on to become “age friendly,” but the process of connecting age-friendly with land use planning hasn’t yet begun.
  • Third, the province is already taking steps to promote more compact, walkable urban development, so amending provincial land use policies (like the provincial policy statement and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe) to make age-friendly design a municipal priority would complement the province’s commitment to age-friendly communities. Increasing housing choice through strategic redevelopment would also help achieve the province’s goal of promoting the ability to age at home in familiar surroundings. 

The journey to completing this paper began over a decade ago when CUI senior associate Gordon Harris (then a private consultant), wrote an article for the Ontario Planning Journal, “Suburbia is No Place to Grow Old.” Together with psychogeriatrian Dr Ian Ferguson, Gordon, Ian and I began making presentations to planners, public health departments and gerontologists about the challenges facing older adults living in suburbia.

These presentations led to a request from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to organize workshops on the subject, which in turn led a 2011 report, prepared with the help of CUI intern Allison Annesley, “Taking Age Friendly Communities Mainstream.”   This is when we started to wonder what was holding planning departments back from embracing age-friendly communities.

Around this time, Marni Cappe, then president of the Canadian Institute of Planners and who later joined the CUI Board, recommended me to participate in a study tour of the UK on aging organized by PHAC. The connections made through this work then led to CUI winning a contract from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (with Ed Starr and Christine Pacini at SHS Consulting and CUI senior associate Philippa Campsie). This five volume work cemented my belief that the development community has an important role to play in creating age-appropriate housing for a generation of seniors that is living longer, healthier lives and with a distinctly different approach to how they enjoy retirement!

A short while later, the Region of Waterloo approached us with a challenge. The Region and its constituent municipalities were committed to what they called “the Big Shift,” a complex process of re-orienting decades of car-centric development towards a new approach that saw a bigger role for public transit. Then commissioner of planning Rob Horne asked us: is it possible to combine “transit-friendly” with “age-friendly”?  The rather long answer to that simple question resulted in “Supporting the Big shift with Age-friendly Development.”  Philippa Campsie and a long list of CUI interns played a central role in this report as well.  In addition to concluding that the two concepts are complementary but not synonymous, we analyzed half a dozen age-friendly neighbourhoods where, through a combination of strong vision and good luck, developers had created conditions compatible with the notion of age-friendly.

Dozens of presentations, discussions and workshops later, the building blocks set out in “No Place to Grow Old: How Canadian Suburbs Can Become Age-friendly” came together in its present form.  The challenges facing our cities are daunting but not impossible.  The key to making policy useful is to get it implemented. That’s our goal at CUI – whether the subject be downtowns, regional growth – or aging.

Read Glenn's latest publication: No Place to Grow Old: How Canadian Suburbs Can Become Age Friendly

Glenn Miller is a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Planners and a Senior Associate with the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI). In addition to representing CUI on the City of Toronto’s Seniors Accountability Table, Glenn has collaborated with the International Federation of Aging, and presented on aging issues to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Institute for Research and Public Policy, the Conference Board of Canada and the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging at McMaster University.  He continues to collaborate with Gordon Harris and Dr Ian Ferguson on aging issues.