By: Elise Burgert
Metro Vancouver’s senior population (aged 65+) has experienced a drastic rise and Vancouver was not built with the new demographic in mind, revealed Andy Yan, director of the City Program at SFU, in a special lecture on January 8 at Harbour Centre.
Yan’s lecture discussed his findings from a 2016 census conducted in Metro Vancouver on ageing. The census found that the senior population in Vancouver has reached 15 per cent, outnumbering the population under the age of fourteen for the first time.
According to Yan, the prevalence of people living into their eighties is not just a result of a baby-boomer generation retiring, but a permanent demographic that will continue to grow due to extraordinary scientific advances in the late 20th and early 21st century which led to massive improvements in medicine.
Even less than a century ago, the population of Vancouver looked very different from how it does today: people were only expected to live until their early sixties, as opposed to the current life expectancy of over 80 years. Consequently, when much of Vancouver was planned in the 1920s and 1930s, consideration of seniors was excluded from crucial documents such as the 1929 Bartholomew plan, which was Vancouver’s first comprehensive town plan covering transportation, street design, zoning, school systems, and parks.
As a result, there is a forgotten demographic in our cities; they were not planned with seniors in mind.
Yan argued that our cities are not serving an important segment of the population. Aside from simply providing seniors with housing and services that they can afford, he urged for the construction of a community that would meet the senior population’s social needs.
During the lecture, Yan spoke about how seniors often face isolation when living alone, with women being particularly vulnerable. He emphasized that building “social capital” must be done on a local level, as higher levels of government are often not flexible enough to build communities. Yan identified this initiative as being difficult to achieve due to the current manner in which the government provides funding for seniors services. Currently, funding is provided at higher levels of government whereas he believes it needs to be provided on the community level.
The census data released not only served to alert the community of the inadequacy of Vancouver’s city planning for the older demographic, but also proposed solutions.
Analyzing different census tracts allows planners to determine which areas have the highest concentrations of seniors. In Metro Vancouver, these areas include White Rock and Southeast False Creek. Based on the results, amenities and funding for seniors can be directed towards these areas.
Yan’s proposals for Vancouver create a vision of an adaptable city. While areas with a high concentration of seniors may not have originally been planned as retirement areas, such communities can be better adapted to meet not just the current generation of seniors, but also those that will follow.