Simon Fraser University Seniors Program

To produce an interactive roundtable discussion DVD on “learning what seniors want in the age-friendly communities of the future.”

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Senior Friendly Communities

We live in a fast-paced society and often new innovations and ways of living are targeted to a younger generation. This leaves many older adults feeling left out, as their communities grow around them without supporting their needs. This is where Simon Fraser University (SFU) stepped in.

Running one of the oldest and most respected continuing education programs in Canada, SFU has long been committed to working with lifelong learners (its Seniors Program was launched in 1975). This soon evolved to include the SFU Seniors Outreach Project, which is the first and only initiative of its kind in the country. Using new media, the Project reaches out to seniors across the country and solicits their opinions on issues that affect them.

Their latest DVD, “A Place for Everyone: Age Friendly Communities,” focuses on what elements make up an age-friendly community. The idea for the DVD came from a 2007 World Health Organization report that identified seniors’ top concerns, which included housing, transportation, outdoor/indoor spaces and amenities. It was obvious that seniors did not feel that their communities were serving them well.

To address the issue of what exactly makes a community age-friendly, SFU gathered three notable individuals for a round table discussion. Moderated by Marl Forsythe, host of CBC Radio’s BC Almanac, the video discussion showcases the expertise of Gordon Price, former Vancouver city councillor and Director of the SFU City Program; Lewis Villegas, architect and instructor of the Urban Issues course for the SFU Seniors Program and; Dr. Elaine Gallagher, former Director of the University of Victoria Centre on Aging and a professor with UVic’s School of Nursing.

The discussion focuses on the three components of an age-friendly community: accessible transport, affordable housing, and inclusive indoor and outdoor spaces. Each participant’s views and ideas reflect their own area of expertise, but common themes arise. Transit is often inaccessible to seniors due to a scheduling focus on peak hours. Alternative schedules and even routes can be adopted to meet many seniors’ needs and make a big impact on their mobility. Housing close to a city or town’s main thoroughfare(s) can positively affect mobility too; however, not all seniors can afford to live close to ”Main Street” or in town centres where amenities and services, such as shopping and medical offices, are located. The key learning is that strong communities are inclusive of everyone no matter what their age, and when communities are designed to accommodate seniors, all residents experience better quality of life.

This DVD is SFU’s most popular in the series thus far, with over 350 copies — one hundred more than usual — distributed to municipal planners, libraries, seniors’ centres, and provincial and federal government partners. The DVD has also been shown at community centres, seniors’ centres, and libraries, where volunteers led discussions with seniors in attendance; all viewers at these events were asked to complete an evaluation form covering feedback on the DVD, as well as their personal views about what they want to see in age-friendly communities.

“Audiences have been really energized by our discussions around this DVD,” says Delia Visscher, SFU Seniors Outreach Project Coordinator.” “Participants have told me they intend to get involved in age-friendly initiatives in their own communities as a result of watching this video.”

Initiatives are already well underway, with the Corporation of Delta hosting the “Building Age-Friendly Communities in Delta,” conference in October 2010. The BC Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport also requested dozens of copies to be distributed on their behalf.

Our grant to the SFU Seniors Program aligns with our mandate to promote public education related to sustainable land use practices.

To learn more about the SFU Seniors Program and to watch “A Place for Everyone: Age Friendly Communities,” please visit their website.

- Alicia Olive