The role of neighbourhoods and residents in developing Age-friendly communities

Sarah Dyer is BC Healthy Communities’ Age-friendly and Community Well-being Specialist.

How neighbourhoods and residents have an impact in developing Age-friendly communities

Creating Age-friendly Communities is an effective local way to address the aging of our population, allowing people to remain in their homes and connected to their community as they actively grow older.  The framework for Age-friendly Communities comes out of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Age-friendly Cities work and is a policy development approach to planning for older adults and the aging journey within Indigenous and local governments.  

Age-friendly Communities are developed through addressing the WHO’s 8 domains of Age-friendly using similar key strategies to the Healthy Communities approach. That is, they are developed through political commitment to age-friendly development, a focus on asset-based community assessment, meaningful community engagement, multi-sectoral collaboration, and health in all public policies.  

Neighbourhoods, residents and Age-friendly planning

Another essential component to the success of any Age-friendly initiative is a top-down/bottom-up approach, where local government decision makers and the local community collaborate. Community can mean different things on different scales, and at one of the smallest units of “community” are neighbourhoods and their residents. People support what they create and it’s essential to engage with everyone who is affected by an issue.

In addition to the more apparent ways that residents can get involved in Age-friendly planning, such as through public engagement (e.g., providing feedback in surveys, focus groups, town halls and other styles of community engagement), they can also hold places at decision-making tables, including Age-friendly advisory committees, as ‘context experts’—those with lived experience. They represent not only older adults, but also other equity seeking groups within the older adult population, who are essential to include. Residents can also be the initiators of Age-friendly planning as local champions and as individuals who have a vision, bring others on board, and move things forward.

East Shore/Regional District of Central Kootenay

A great example of the power of an Age-friendly local champion to move things forward is in the story of the communities of East Shore. These are five small communities along the east shore of Kootenay Lake: Riondel, Kootenay Bay, Crawford Bay, Grey Creek and Boswell. The communities are remote, with the nearest centres—Creston and Nelson—more than an hour’s drive away. The total population of all five communities is approximately 1200 year round and double that in the summer.  Between 2011 and 2016, the number of people in the area aged 65 and older grew by 21 per cent, and is the only age group to increase in the region’s overall population. Everything started with a local champion who, after attending a BC Healthy Communities Aging Well workshop, worked on a number of projects to support older adults in the communities. One of these projects involved raising funds for a local bus to help residents get to medical appointments, grocery stores and recreational activities. This project led to a successful application for a UBCM Age-friendly grant for the Regional District of Central Kootenay. The local resident champion pushed all of this forward and is now the project coordinator for the initiative.

Village of Granisle

Multi-sectoral links between community neighbourhoods and municipal level decision makers can influence policy change and allocation of resources and programs. An example of a community that carried this out well in their Age-friendly initiative is Granisle. Led by Council, they first created an Age-friendly Committee with strong representation across the community. Engagement came from the community through grass roots initiatives such as luncheons, door knocking efforts and meetings in the parks. Older adults and young people alike were involved, meaning that the community as a whole created and owned the vision. Through strong collaboration between the local community organizations, citizens, the Village and regional health authority, they developed a comprehensive Age-friendly strategy to support inclusion and accessibility that is beneficial for all ages.  

To create successful Age-friendly communities, it’s essential for local governments to engage with neighbourhoods, and for residents and neighbourhood groups to know they have an important role to play in developing Age-friendly communities. Interested in learning more about BC Healthy Communities’ Age-friendly supports and programming? Visit our Age-friendly Capacity Building page, where you’ll find stories, our Age-friendly Action Guide, an on-demand webinar and more.

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