By Chris Muise
For most of us in Halifax, an unploughed sidewalk is, at worst, an unpleasant inconvenience. It becomes more of an obstacle for the city’s senior set – an impassable snowbank may make it practically impossible for them to access the community outside their homes.
“February last year, my wife and I were housebound,” says Jerry MacInnis, 75. “We couldn’t get out, because we walk everywhere or take a bus, and if we can’t walk, we’re stuck.”
“Last Thursday, I had a doctor’s appointment,” says Susan Crawford, a Halifax senior resident. “There was a wall, waist-high on me, of snow, and I had to go on the street, because I use a cane – I’m not able to crawl over these great big snow banks.”
Snowy sidewalks are just one of many ways Crawford finds Halifax to be inaccessible to seniors. Crossing signals changing too fast, a lack of accessible entrances to small businesses, and too few accessible low-floor buses on city routes – these are a few more factors that make it challenging to be a senior Haligonian.
“It’s my community, and I feel it should be as much accessible to me as it is to the able-bodied,” says Crawford.
There are those that would agree with her, and luckily, some of them happen to be in positions to help implement changes, and encourage a more age-friendly urban centre.
Jennifer Chapman is a planner on HRM’s urban design team, and she’s getting ready to talk about how age-friendly community planning factors into the city’s development strategies at the Silver Economy Summit in New Glasgow, where plans for addressing the province’s aging population will be discussed.
“We want to write a plan for our regional centre, to kind of guide how the city’s going to grow and evolve over the next 20 years,” says Chapman. “Our population is an older population, and one of the things that we need to think about is how people are aging, where they’re aging.”
As our population gets older, being able to keep seniors a functioning part of the local economy and community will be vital to the sustainability of HRM. Designing a city to be as accommodating as possible to everyone, seniors included, is one way municipal leaders hope to keep older folks in their homes and their neighbourhoods.
Chapman cites the new Halifax Central Library as a prime example of an eight-to-80-friendly design.
“It has broad doorways, lots of light. It’s got spaces for people to sit on the ground floor, but also elevators and ramps and things to get people in and upstairs,” says Chapman. “It provides lots of space, both inside and outside the building, for people to sit and enjoy just being in our city. When we’re designing projects, or building projects, these are the things that we’re trying to think about.”
There are other ways the city works to make life here easier for seniors, including free transit during off-peak hours on Tuesdays, and offering senior discount rates for municipal recreational programs.
Chapman acknowledges that weather-proofing sidewalks and retro-fitting older buildings in our heritage-rich city to meet modern accessibility standards are areas there is still room to improve, but she believes the city is truly committed to improving the living experience for all seniors wherever they can.
“Mobility is one of our key themes while we’re working on the centre plan,” says Chapman. “Where are we strong, and where are we falling? Especially as our population gets older, it’s something we have to respond to.”
Some seniors, like MacInnis, think a lot of headway has been made over the years for senior accessibility in Halifax.
“Since I’ve been around, the city has improved a great deal with respect to seniors,” says MacInnis, who has lived in the community for 46 years. “Accessibility for seniors right now, I think it’s okay.”
Crawford says there’s still much to improve on, but she’s optimistic that changes will come, if for no other reason than they pretty much have to.
“They’ve got to improve, so they will,” says Crawford. “Everybody’s getting older, so they have to do this.”