Designing public space for all ages and abilities

November 19th, 2021

Winfield Shores Harbour board members and community volunteers at Winfield Shores Harbour Park, this year’s Depave Paradise project in Lakefield, Ontario. (Photo by H. Goodchild/GreenUP.)

Hayley Goodchild, Neighbourhood and Residential Programs Coordinator, GreenUP

“What age do you consider to be old?”

That’s the provocative question at the heart of a video from the Disrupt Aging campaign by AARP that has garnered more than 1.3 million views on YouTube since 2016.

The video debunks stereotypes about aging by inviting millennials and older adults to talk about their lives and teach one another something they’re good at. At the end, the millennial participants revisit their earlier assumptions around the meaning of old. The takeaway? Many people live life to the fullest well into their seventies, eighties, and beyond.

You’ll get no argument from this elder millennial. Many volunteers at this year’s Depave Paradise project in Lakefield were older adults, who ripped up asphalt by hand and moved many yards of soil over multiple days. Since then, a group of committed volunteers―all older in age―have been leading the maintenance of this wonderful parkette in their neighbourhood.

At the same time, many people do develop challenges as they age, from declining vision and mobility, to social isolation, and more. According to Age-Friendly Peterborough’s Community Action Plan, “the Peterborough region has an older age profile than the provincial average, and the percentage of people over 65 in the region is projected to increase substantially over the next 25 years, with a sharper increase expected in the County.”

While life expectancy and quality of life in older age are both increasing, people are more likely to have one or more disabilities as they age, such as a chronic health condition. Such issues aren’t necessarily unique to older adults. Even though the average age of onset of a disability is early 40’s, people of all ages have diverse abilities and accessibility needs.

Through GreenUP’s NeighbourHOOD programs, we’ve heard from many people about the ways that urban spaces could be enhanced using the principles of universal design. Universal design is design that meets the needs of all people regardless of age, ability, and other factors.

For example, older residents in Kawartha Heights, some of whom provide childcare for their grandchildren, have explained that local green spaces are geared more toward young, able-bodied children.

Shaded seating areas, accessible washrooms and pathways, and exercise equipment are just some of the features they would like to see added to parks in their neighbourhood. These enhancements could support people of all ages and abilities.

Roads and sidewalks also present many barriers.

“In many of our neighbourhoods, even when there are sidewalks, the width of the sidewalk, the quality of the pavement, and the location of curb cuts all contribute to whether or not folks can use them effectively,” explains Laura Keresztesi, GreenUP’s NeighbourHOOD Programs Coordinator.

“In neighbourhoods like Jackson Park-Brookdale, Talwood, and Downtown Jackson Creek, folks who use mobility aids say they are often forced to travel on the road, where they don’t feel safe. Other residents avoid using particular intersections because of the speed and unpredictability of traffic.”

In the Downtown Jackson Creek neighbourhood, even where sidewalks are available, there are several reasons why people using wheelchairs are forced onto the street. (Photo by GreenUP.)

The need is obvious: urban spaces should meet the needs of people of all ages and abilities. We were thrilled to learn that Green Communities Canada is emphasizing age-friendly design in its latest round of Depave Paradise projects.

“Depave projects help communities adapt to climate change by allowing rain to soak into the ground where it falls, reducing the risk of flooding, and helping to protect the health of our waterways,” explains Brianna Salmon, executive director of Green Communities Canada. “They also create valued community green spaces in areas that were previously under-utilized, and this means they provide an opportunity to transform spaces with the public interest in mind.”

“We are encouraging an intentional approach to engaging older adults because we recognize that they are a demographic who can be disproportionately impacted by urban design,” continues Salmon. “We want them to be part of the conversation, and celebrate their involvement with the Depave program, because we believe that a site designed with age-inclusive principles benefits everyone.”

To kick-off our next Depave project in an age-friendly way, GreenUP is hosting a virtual community conversation on November 25th. This session will focus on age-friendly, accessible design and continue these discussions with residents throughout the greater Peterborough region.

The event will feature short presentations from community members and other aging, accessibility, and planning experts. Learn more about what age-friendly and accessible universal design means to residents throughout the greater Peterborough region. Then we’ll explore how parks, roadways, and parking lots can be enhanced in age-friendly and accessible ways.

You can register for this free, interactive event via the GreenUP website at www.greenup.on.ca/event/.

GreenUP’s NeighbourHOOD work is generously funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough (CFGP). Depave Paradise is a program of Green Communities Canada (GCC) that is funded through a private trust. For more information about the Community Conversations event, or Depave Paradise, please contact Hayley Goodchild at hayley.goodchild@greenup.on.ca.

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