The Role of Age-Friendly Cities in Ontario and Beyond
By Rayna Naik & Austin Mardon
To address the concerns that are associated with the global aging population, the World Health Organization (WHO) has introduced the concept of age-friendly cities (AFC) to support the well-being of older adults (Government of Canada, 2016). AFC aim to promote active aging by eliminating obstacles and developing policies, services, and infrastructures that encourage social participation, engagement and overall good health (World Health Organization, 2018a). As more older adults choose to age in place, AFC are becoming increasingly important. As Neal & DeLaTorre (2016) suggest, the push to create communities that are age-friendly does not only satisfy the needs of older adults but also optimizes the assets of an aging population for the benefit of society as a whole.
The AFC framework developed by the WHO incorporates eight interrelated domains that can assist policymakers in promoting the well-being of older adults, which include: community and healthcare, transportation, housing, social participation, outdoor spaces and buildings, social inclusion, civic participation and employment and communication and information (World Health Organization, 2018b). Examples of age-friendly elements in a community include well-lit walking paths, automatic doors in buildings, availability of local events catered to older adults and affordable, accessible transportation (Government of Canada, 2016).
In order to become an age-friendly city in Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada has developed the Pan-Canadian Age-Friendly Communities Milestones (Government of Canada, 2016). This guide proposes an order of steps that a community should follow to implement the AFC model in Canada. The milestones include: establishing an advisory committee, securing a municipal council resolution, developing a plan of action that caters to the needs of older adults in the community, publishing the plan for public viewing and identifying a measure of effectiveness to evaluate the action plan (Government of Canada, 2016).
There are numerous advantages to the development of AFC that can be categorized within economic, social and health contexts. From an economic viewpoint, the capacity to hire and retain older adults within AFC can aid in addressing labour shortages of qualified workers (Neal & DeLaTorre, 2016; Lin, 2022). As a result, older adults have the potential to boost economic growth and improve business outcomes (Government of Canada, 2018). In terms of social benefits, providing an inclusive space for older adults through AFC can assist the community through their volunteer activities by reducing barriers to participation in civic engagement (Neal & DeLaTorre, 2016; Lin, 2022). Finally, there are several health benefits that support the development of AFC. Clean and accessible outdoor environments promote physical activity, which can improve health and lower health care costs for the province (Neal & DeLaTorre, 2016). The emphasis on community participation in AFC may also help to reduce social isolation, which can improve the mental health of older adults (Neal & DeLaTorre, 2016). Ultimately, AFC acknowledge the diverse needs of older adults and help promote active aging by enabling positive health and social participation, thus improving their quality of life (National Seniors Strategy, 2020).
In 2003, the city of Manchester established an age-friendly programme in the United Kingdom, titled Valuing Older People (World Health Organization, 2018c). The goal of this programme was to organize initiatives that improved the well-being of older adults through health policies. Fast forward to 2010, Manchester joined the WHO Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities (GNAFCC), where the primary aim was to establish the first AFC in the United Kingdom within ten years under a strategy titled Manchester: A Great Place to Grow Older (World Health Organization, 2018c). There were three goals of this strategy, with the first being to develop age-friendly neighbourhoods in the city. The second goal was to develop age-friendly services, and the final was to promote age equality (World Health Organization, 2018c).
Manchester has spearheaded a number of initiatives as part of the strategy. One of these initiatives is called Culture Champions, which strives to expand access to the city’s arts and culture to older adults. It involves collaboration with 19 cultural organizations local to Manchester, including Hallé Orchestra, People’s History Museum, Royal Exchange Theatre and the Whitworth (The Campaign to End Loneliness, n.d.). The goal of this initiative is to encourage older adults to engage with the arts in the city. This is achieved through discounted event tickets and volunteer opportunities for various projects within the initiative (The Campaign to End Loneliness, n.d.). Another initiative is the North City Nomads, in which older adults are offered day trips via coach to areas in Northern Manchester. The goal of this initiative is to reduce loneliness and promote social engagement among older adults (World Health Organization, 2018c).
Brussels is another city that has taken on the challenge of becoming a GNAFCC. The priorities of the AFC framework in Belgium include: pursuing an approach that is inclusive of all generations, engaging with older adults with unique needs, and strengthening the position of older adults in the city (World Health Organization, 2018d). One of the key barriers to progress in this region is the proportion of older adults who are reliant on the minimum income at 7.5% compared to the rest of the nation at 4.8% (World Health Organization, 2018d).
Initiatives developed in Brussels include the development of seven meeting establishments to promote interactions between older adults and expand opportunities to strengthen computer literacy, the implementation of a volunteer portal in which older adults can locate ongoing activities in their community, and programs that promote connections between older adults with youth (World Health Organization, 2018d). There are a number of future areas of progress for AFC in Brussels. The introduction of technology has created knowledge gaps in older adults as they are often left behind with the latest digital trends. Thus, one of the priorities moving forward is addressing digital exclusion (World Health Organization, 2018d). Other priorities include enhancing transportation options through ‘phone and ride’ vehicles, reducing the cost of sports and cultural activities, and developing more initiatives at the local level with consideration of particular community needs (World Health Organization, 2018d).
Government of Canada. (2016). Age-Friendly Communities. Aging & Seniors. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/aging-seniors/friendly-communities.html
National Seniors Strategy. (2020). Enabling the creation of age-friendly physical environments and spaces. Age-Friendly Environments. https://nationalseniorsstrategy.ca/the-four-pillars/pillar-1/age-friendly-environments/
Neal, M. B., & DeLaTorre, A. (2016). The Case for Age-Friendly Communities. Grantmakers in Aging. https://www.giaging.org/documents/160302_Case_for_AFC.pdf
World Health Organization. (2018a). Why Should Cities Become More Age-Friendly? Age-Friendly World. https://extranet.who.int/agefriendlyworld/why-become-more-af/
World Health Organization. (2018b). The WHO Age-friendly Cities Framework. Age-Friendly World. https://extranet.who.int/agefriendlyworld/age-friendly-cities-framework/
World Health Organization. (2018c). Case Study: The Age-friendly Programme in the City of Manchester. Age-Friendly World. https://extranet.who.int/agefriendlyworld/resources/age-friendly-case-studies/city-of-manchester/
World Health Organization. (2018d). Case Study: The Age-friendly Programme in the City of Brussels. Age-Friendly World. https://extranet.who.int/agefriendlyworld/resources/age-friendly-case-studies/city-of-brussels/
About the Author
Rayna Naik is a 4th year health sciences student at Western University, completing an honours specialization.