Research program makes cities work for seniors

20 June 2012

A new MSFHR-supported program led by researchers at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility (CHHM) is working to enhance the ability of urban spaces to accommodate people of all ages and promote active, independent living for seniors.

The Active Streets, Active People (ASAP) program will evaluate the impact of street-level changes in Vancouver’s West End on older adults’ mobility and social interactions. With the development of a new “greenway” along the Comox Street/Helmcken Street corridor, the researchers will investigate whether seniors’ travel patterns, street usage, and social opportunities are enhanced.

Viewed through the eyes of older adults, the urban environment can present significant challenges to health and mobility. Even minor obstacles – uneven pavement, tree roots, poor signage – can impair seniors’ mobility and make it difficult to sustain physical activity and social connectedness in later life. Physical activities such as walking have been shown to help prevent chronic diseases and improve seniors’ emotional and social well-being.

With the Canadian population aging quickly, it is important to design “low-friction” communities that support healthy aging by creating safe, walkable neighbourhoods.

As part of the ASAP program, MSFHR is funding a knowledge broker to develop and evaluate activities to engage community groups in the research process. The first community event, held May 9, brought together CHHM researchers and West End residents for a walking tour from the perspective of older adults. As participants strolled through the West End, they highlighted for researchers the features that supported or inhibited their ability to remain physically active and socially engaged within the neighbourhood.

Participants identified a broad range of ideas to make urban spaces friendlier to all ages, including:

  • washrooms and fountains in public parks
  • more pedestrian-operated traffic lights
  • more visible signage and maps to promote orientation
  • wider sidewalks with smooth, even surfaces
  • traffic calming in all residential areas
  • improved lighting
  • benches and seating on hilly routes
  • neighbourhoods that provide opportunities for social interaction

Feedback from the event will be disseminated to help communities plan for an aging population. A full report on the walking tour’s outcomes is available for download.

ASAP is funded by the Peter Wall Solutions Initiative (PWSI) with support from MSFHR. For more information about this program, visit the CHHM website.