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  • Author or Editor: Barry Pendergast x
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In this vignette, we examine the challenges and opportunities of aging in urban Canada. In addition to sharing our own experiences of growing older in a major Canadian city, we also call upon the work we have been doing to help the city become a better place for everyone to age. As local government efforts have continued to fall short, residents (like us) have begun to take matters into their own hands. In this vignette, we summarize some of the challenges for creating an age-friendly community in Calgary, introduce our organizations, and outline some of the obstacles and opportunities we have faced. Finally, we provide some recommendations for other organizations looking to make an impact in their communities.

One of the most concerning aspects of aging in Calgary is that the majority of housing available for seniors is extremely expensive. It is far cheaper for people to stay in their own homes, only paying for taxes, utilities, and maintenance. Another problem in Calgary is the practice of keeping roads and cycle paths safe during the winter, but not the sidewalks. Ploughing and piling snow in front of bus stops makes boarding the bus difficult and puts pedestrians at risk by forcing them into designated bicycle lanes. Public transportation is not subsidized by the government, and bus pass prices have recently been raised. This means that low-income seniors may not be able to afford the bus, which could contribute to increased isolation and, as a result, a decline in wellbeing.

Older people in our local community often feel like they aren’t a priority.

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Older adults have been thrown into the spotlight of the COVID-19 pandemic and the bright lights have exposed both societies’ admirable and deplorable traits. We have seen stories of heart-warming compassion and deep-rooted ageism. From the appalling #boomerremover hashtag to the calls for mandatory quarantines for those over 70 years of age, public responses to COVID-19 demonstrate the role of age and (dis)ability in amplifying social and spatial inequalities. Although these reactions are unfounded, unethical, and have not received widespread political support, they do highlight the distressing interrelation of several truths: society at large is aging; older adults are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19; and the social and physical infrastructure of cities has not been built to support the needs of older adults. In addition to the risks of COVID-19, the confluence of these three realities has potentially exacerbated a second public health crisis: loneliness. And as in the case of COVID-19, older adults are particularly susceptible. In this chapter we examine the relationship between COVID-19, social distance, social isolation, and loneliness with a focus on the older adult experience in urban and suburban environments. In addition to outlining the risks faced by older adults in times of crisis, we explore opportunities to strengthen social bonds while physically distancing through the development of blended communities or virtual retirement villages. Using the experience of the Oakridge Seniors Association in suburban Calgary, we offer targeted recommendations for community leaders and policy makers on how to minimize risk and maximize social cohesion by embracing communication technology while remembering the importance of human interaction. (Chapters Eleven and Twelve also explore the theme of self-organization in the face of the pandemic, but from the perspective of different national contexts and social categories.)

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