Feb 6, 2015

Aging & Density

I recently gave a presentation to the Conference Board of Canada on the impacts of the "grey wave" on city building. Interest on this subject is building as the rapid increase in the seniors’ population becomes better known.

The challenge is obvious. Despite YYC having one of the younger populations, we are also one of the fastest aging populations. In the mid 80's our average age was 29.5 while we are now pushing above 37 years. The big number of people arriving in our city has certainly stemmed that increase. 

The number that sets off big alarm bells for every city in North America and the industrialized world is the number of working aged adults to each senior citizen. Rapid aging of the population is a huge concern worldwide. The impact is fewer paying the bills. 

In 2011 there were 6.1 working aged adults for every senior in Canada. That number will drop by 58 per cent by the time 2039 arrives. A huge drop that has serious implications on government budgets, services and how cities grow. A simple example is when houses get resold. I lived in a community elsewhere where a few houses resold on my street. The houses had no children in them for decades and the seniors downsized. The homes were sold to young couples with one or two children. All of a sudden the housing turnover provided lots of new children in the schools that were unexpected.

How the built environment has evolved certainly impacts how folks can remain in their homes as they age. A few years ago we published a report that compared two YYC neighbourhoods, one was around the Chinook mall and the other was in the Arbour Lake neighbourhood in the NW. For both the report provides information about the built form of the neighbourhood and factors like housing type, access to services and future housing type needs based on the aging population.

Clearly we will be facing challenges. Driving to the local shopping area through a series of cul-de-sacs means a lengthy drive, particularly in the winter. The following graphic highlights how the road pattern impacts driving distances. 

The need for grade related housing, more opportunities for seniors to downsize but stay in their homes, access to transit, are all important factors. Our recent Greenfield plans, in fact, are showing more direct roads through a grid pattern which will help in many ways along with more localized retail resulting in shorter distances to housing. Smaller lot requiring less maintenance as well as a greater diversity in housing type and tenure, all mean our emerging suburbs will help address many of the issues raised through aging in the burbs.

YYC has done a great job in getting the foundation in place to help with the future,  our LRT reaching into the suburbs for example.  My 89 year old aunt only until recently would travel by LRT from the SE into the downtown. 

To help put things into perspective please watch the presentation video above that provides a narrated version of the Conference Board power point.  I hope it gets some discussion going.  

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