By Doug Hallett
City hall is working on an action plan to meet the needs of an aging population, and the president of the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association says the sooner this happens the better.
“We see it as a step in the right direction, a step forward,” Pierre Desmarais, president of the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association, says of the older adult strategy recently endorsed by city council.
“We are a little bit concerned that it’s spread over 10 years, but that is something we will have to work with the city on,” he told the Trib. “It is quite early on now, and we haven’t really started working with the city.”
In endorsing the vision and principles for an older adult strategy, council authorized city staff to create a cross-departmental team that will forge an action plan based on the new strategy.
Mayor Karen Farbridge says the older adult strategy and the action plan that will flow from it are important because older adults have different needs.
“We have to make sure we are integrating those needs into our planning and services,” she said in an interview. “We need to integrate that mindset throughout the organization.”
Changes to the way the city operates that help older adults can also have benefits beyond this age group, Farbridge said.
She said such changes could also help people of various ages with disabilities, as well as children.
“It’s been said that if your community can be safe for an eight-year-old or an 80-year-old, you’ve done good planning,” Farbridge said.
It’s expected that Guelph, which is part of the area covered by the province’s Places to Grow legislation, will have a population of 175,000 by 2031. People 55 and older are expected to make up about one-third of the city’s population by 2031. Their numbers will grow faster than any other segment of the population between now and then, says a recent city staff report on the older adult strategy.
The intention is to “create an age-friendly community that supports older adults to live in security, maintain their health and participate fully in society,” the report says. The city “will adapt its structure and services to be accessible and inclusive of older people with varying needs and capacities.”
The city’s older adult strategy uses a framework consistent with one developed by the World Health Organization. “Cities around the world are applying this framework, using a set of standard guidelines and tools to become age-ready and age-friendly,” the report says. Efforts have been made to align the older adult strategy with the community well-being initiative that the city is working on, it says.
“This is a multi-year strategy, which will involve all city departments as well as community and provincial partners,” it says. “Because of the wide range of services, programs and policy that affect the lives of older adults, many of which are not the direct responsibility of the city, the city’s role in this strategy includes that of direct service delivery, partner, advocate and leader.”
The city budgeted $40,000 to develop the older adult strategy, which involved hiring a consultant last spring to work on the project. A steering committee of 10 people, including city staff and members of the community, also had input into the strategy.
The cross-departmental action team at city hall is to look at the strategy’s 65 recommendations, aiming to prioritize them and oversee their implementation in coming years.
The strategy has no impact on the city’s 2013 budget, but some of the recommended actions would have budget impacts in coming years, the report says.
Farbridge noted that some of the 65 recommendations have been described as “quick wins” that could be implemented quickly at little cost.
These “quick wins” include:
• Undertaking a coordinated review of city streets and spaces to consider ways of addressing identified gaps and barriers to accessibility. Such a review would include prioritizing maintenance required for sidewalks and curb cuts, with consideration of options for speeding up this work
• Lengthening walk signals and installing audible walk signals at key intersections where older adult traffic is high, such as downtown, near libraries and at the Evergreen Seniors Centre
• Working with city departments, community partners, neighbourhood groups and others to establish a “seniors’ watch” program
• Working with community partners to compile and publish a comprehensive list of resources and information specific to older adults in areas such as health care, home services, transportation services, grocery delivery and respite care
• Improving the city’s responsiveness by reducing the use of automated voice systems and increasing the use of live answering of phone calls
• Working in partnership with community agencies to support the distribution of a resource guide for caregivers to help them navigate and know what services are available for older adults in Guelph
• Promoting available home modification programs and providing help to older adults in completion of application forms
Among the other recommendations described in the report as “quick wins” are developing multi-year plans to install more public washrooms in Guelph and to add more public benches and seating throughout the city over a period of up to 10 years. But actually installing these new facilities would cost the city money, the report says. It notes that the city could look at creative ways of financing more public benches, such as sponsorships, donations and offering naming rights.