Cities getting seniors in action

The cities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows have endorsed Age-Friendly Community Action Plans.

Members of the Age-friendly Advisory Committee from left

Members of the Age-friendly Advisory Committee from left

The Cities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are trying to achieve age-friendly community status.

Two Age-Friendly Community Action Plans have been drawn up and were endorsed by both cities in March, a process that started last year.

The project was funded by a $20,000 grant from the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which launched the Seniors’ Housing and Support Initiative in 2004. It was initiated to help local governments prepare for aging populations.

The Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Katzie Seniors Network was contracted to conduct the work, called the Age-Friendly Communities Initiative.

An advisory committee was formed, made up of representatives from the Seniors Network, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services, Fraser Health and the Municipal Advisory Committee on Accessibility Issues.

The committee held three community consultation events, which involved local seniors, service providers, caregivers, stakeholder organizations and representatives from various levels of government.

“The first one was thrown open to the entire public. Anyone who had an interest looking at ways to improve both of the cities in terms of their age-friendly accessibility, inclusion, social connections, communication, housing transportation. We had about 200 people come and attend those sessions,” said Heather Treleaven, coordinator of the Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Katzie Seniors Network.

In September, two solutions workshops were held, one for Maple Ridge and one for Pitt Meadows. Representatives from Fraser Health, the cities, the Alzheimer Society of B.C., parks and recreation, bylaws, and engineering were invited to hear about challenges for seniors in the community.

It was these consultations that resulted in the action plans for both cities.

“I think that was a really unique part of the project, to bring everyone together to work on it together,” said Treleaven.

Age-friendly planning in British Columbia is based on guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization. Eight key features of an age-friendly community were identified in 2007. Those features include outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information and community support and health services.

A ninth category, emergency preparedness, was created by the local advisory committee.

An age-friendly city provides structures and services that are accessible and inclusive for seniors with different needs and capacities to make them feel secure in their environment. There should be supports in place for them to age actively, enjoy good health, remain independent and stay involved in their community.

Businesses should be able to support older workers and benefit from such customers, while buildings and streets should be barrier-free with adequate green spaces and better access to local businesses and facilities.

High on the list for outdoor spaces in Maple Ridge is to improve access to public washrooms and adequate and safe green spaces that include accessible walkways and safe lighting, as well as expanding walking groups for seniors, along with the creation of pickle ball courts and installing senior friendly park and trail signage.

A walkability study, looking at sidewalk and street crossing safety, lighting, curb letdowns, and sidewalk surfacing and cracks will be conducted.

The promotion of age-friendly cycling and cycling specific routes is another priority, as is the addition of bench seating with arm rests in urban park areas in Pitt Meadows.

“Housing is a huge issue, the lack of affordable housing,” said Joanne Leginus, director of administration and senior services with  Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services.

She is most pleased about recommendations in the action plans to advocate the provincial government to increase the local stock of affordable rental housing for seniors and to reinstate co-op subsidies, along with forming a seniors housing coalition in the community.

“It is a real issue in our community right now because of increasing seniors population. Many seniors still live independently, many are low-income,” she explained.

The action plans recommend representatives from the senior’s demographic be appointed to the TransLink and Coast Mountain Bus Company user committees, as well as one or more to the council tables that represent senior transportation needs and issues.

An Age-Friendly award recognition program and business accreditation program are being explored, along with the creation of an intergenerational garden, including a second one in Maple Ridge, connecting a local elementary school with the local seniors centre.

The action plans also make recommendations to educate event organizers on ensuring there is adequate and accessible washroom facilities and seating, the development of a map that will highlight all age-friendly services in the community, to build an open seniors clinic with multiple services at one location and to advocate for affordable dental services.

An application for each city has been made to the UBCM for Age-Friendly Community Status. Cities will find out by the end of May if the applications are successful.

“There are over 30 [cities] or so in B.C. that are designated age-friendly communities and we hope to be the next two,” said Treleaven.