Cities that take care of their seniors

Cities that take care of their seniors
Cities that take care of their seniors

This text is part of the special section Municipalities

One in five people in Quebec was 65 or older in 2021 — in less than 20 years, more than a quarter of the population will reach this age. The gray wave is sweeping over us. Are our cities ready?

“We tend to plan urban developments to meet the needs of a 30-year-old in good health,” says David Paradis, director of research, training and support at Vivre en ville, with a sigh. For several years, he has been interested in ways to make cities more welcoming to seniors. His observation: time is running out.

Because the design and construction of our cities – the streets, parks, public squares – take an enormous amount of time. “‘Short term’, when we talk about municipal matters, it’s a decade,” underlines the town planner. For a person losing their autonomy, this period is far too long.

Faced with the aging of the population, he invites municipalities to reverse the situation, by adopting a method that takes into account all ages of life. Because from the child who needs places to play in complete safety, the teenager who wants their freedom, the new parents who navigate the city with a stroller, to the person losing their autonomy who inaugurates their walker , the current approach leaves far too many people behind. On the contrary, “when we develop for the most vulnerable user, we benefit everyone,” he summarizes.

Housing at any age

What does the ideal city in which to grow old look like? Much of the answer comes down to one word: dwelling. “From the age of 68, seniors must in certain cases move up to four times,” mentions Jean Robitaille, strategic development advisor for PAX Habitat, an affordable seniors’ residence in Joliette created in collaboration with two religious communities. “We start by breaking down the house to go to a smaller place, like a condo,” he illustrates. Then, we will live in a residence for independent people. If our health declines, we are forced to move to an intermediate resource, to end our days in a CHSLD. » Each of these changes upsets the person and sometimes completely disrupts their bearings.

In fact, the majority of people prefer to stay at home, or in the same neighborhood. But the possibilities are often slim. “In the region, they go where there are options, that is to say in a private residence for seniors [RPA] », summarizes François Grisé, general director of the HABITATS Movement. He founded this initiative in the wake of the documentary theater play Tout inclusive, for which he went to live for a month in an RPA in Val-d’Or. Except that these accommodations are very expensive and can take a significant toll on an already limited budget. In large centers, the crisis particularly affects seniors at risk, who sometimes find themselves evicted from places they have occupied for decades.

An ideal environment will offer a diversity of types of housing, explains David Paradis. “It allows us to choose what meets our needs and preferences. We can stay in our communities and take advantage of our existing social network, keep our habits. »

If the keys to financing housing projects are more in the hands of the provincial and federal governments, municipalities can still facilitate their development, considers Jean Robitaille. “Cities must be proactive in changing zoning regulations quickly in order to establish social or community economy initiatives. » Because administrative delays can signify the death warrant for projects with tight budgets.

Growing old together

The ideal city in which to grow old must also offer answers to isolation, a problem that increasingly worries experts. For David Paradis, the solution is simple: “we must put vulnerable humans at the heart of the design of public spaces to ensure that they suit them. » By paying attention to the comfort of sidewalks and the accessibility of health services on foot or by public transport, among other things, we allow aging people to continue to leave their homes. This will contribute to their long-term physical and mental well-being.

François Grisé believes that beyond urban planning considerations, it is necessary to change mentalities. Isn’t old age a stage of life that everyone goes through one day? “We are in denial, we act as if old age does not exist. » To make it pleasant, you must already accept that it is inevitable.

This content was produced by the Special Publications team at Duty, relating to marketing. The writing of the Duty did not take part.

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