Age-Friendly Initiatives, City of Richmond
The City of Richmond’s Age-Friendly Initiative is a multi-year set of actions and plans that advance work towards making Richmond an age-friendly community. An age-friendly community focuses on the social and physical environments to promote healthy aging by adapting services and structures to ensure accessibility and inclusion for all residents. The Age-Friendly Community initiative, developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2006, was designed to optimize seniors’ health, participation and safety throughout the course of aging by encouraging communities to adapt structures and services to increase accessibility and inclusion. The City of Richmond’s Age-Friendly Initiative is made up of a number of projects and activities completed to date, including a 2015–2020 Age-Friendly Assessment and Action Plan, an Age-Friendly City designation in 2015, the creation of a Dementia-Friendly Community Action Plan in 2019, and finally, the 2019/20 Engaging Seniors in Age-Friendly Planning project.
The Age-Friendly Assessment and Action Plan started in 2014 and was organized around the eight core dimensions of an Age-Friendly City including: Outdoor Spaces and Public Buildings; Transportation; Housing; Social Participation; Respect and Social Inclusion; Civic Participation, Employment and Volunteer Opportunities; Communication and Information; and Community Support and Health Services. It included an assessment of current Age-Friendly features in the city through an environmental scan and community consultation process: this assessment informed a framework that outlined priority action areas for the following years.
In 2019/20, the City started the Engaging Seniors in Age-Friendly Planning project, which consisted of recruitment activities, participant surveys, and Stakeholder Committee and Neighbourhood Group meetings. After careful consideration and review of various indicators and variables, the Seafair neighbourhood, which is located on the west side of Richmond, was identified as the pilot community for the project. Groups of diverse seniors in Richmond’s Seafair neighbourhood were recruited to identify barriers and well-designed areas in the built environment that impact aging in place. The goals of this project included increasing participating seniors’ knowledge of programs and services available to successfully age in place and knowledge of age-friendly communities; identifying barriers in the built environment which challenge seniors to successfully age in place; connecting seniors with their peers living in their neighbourhoods; empowering participants to become more active in age-friendly planning within the City of Richmond and their own neighbourhoods; identifying the needs of vulnerable and at-risk seniors in Richmond; and creating ambassadors to generate change through increased knowledge and skills identifying and reporting barriers in the built environment. The final report, Engaging Seniors in Age-Friendly Planning project 2020, outlines the project’s activities in detail.
The City of Richmond’s age-friendly initiatives have had many positive impacts in the community. For example, the Engaging Seniors in Age-Friendly Planning project resulted in changes to a traffic light at a busy intersection and to the walkability of a neighbourhood sidewalk. Project participants were also involved in discussions with the Seafair Shopping Plaza Property Management and were able to voice concerns on behalf of several seniors living in the neighbourhood about pedestrian safety accessing the parking lot. As a result, the Seafair Shopping Plaza Property Management installed two speed bumps to the parking lot entrance to make walking safer for pedestrians.
The Engaging Seniors in Age-Friendly Planning project built on and advances the work the City has already completed as a designated Age-Friendly Community. The project’s final report provides a framework with steps to guide the engagement of seniors in age-friendly planning that will support Richmond and other organizations to conduct similar projects in their own neighbourhoods. Seniors who participated this project, i.e., in Neighborhood Group consultations, had an increase in knowledge and understanding of how to identify age-friendly barriers and supports in their neighbourhood, City policy and procedures regarding age-friendly planning, and programs, services and resources available to seniors aged 55+ years in Richmond that will help support them to stay healthy and active in the community and successfully age-in-place. Participants also increased their confidence as age-friendly ambassadors in their neighbourhoods and benefitted from the social opportunities and connections with their peers and neighbours.
The Engaging Seniors in Age-Friendly Planning project was made possible by the financial support of the Union of BC Municipalities Age-Friendly Communities. They provided the City with a grant of $25,000 in 2019 to advance the project’s work.
Once in action, several factors contributed to this project’s success. “Throughout the project, the City was well-respected and seen as neutral leaders in planning for the seniors in the community,” says Debbie Hertha, Program Lead, Seniors, at the City of Richmond. The program was given meeting space free of charge from various organizations who were interested in supporting the project and finding out more about seniors services in Richmond. Debbie says, “As a result of these connections made, we may have some support for future age-friendly projects in Richmond.”
Another strength of the project came from the Stakeholder Committee, which was comprised of representatives from organizations who serve seniors and who could support the recruitment of seniors and provide resources for the participants. The project was an opportunity to educate and inform participants about a number of City services available for seniors that they were unaware of previously. The City was also able to dispel misinformation and educate participants about the process for reporting hazards in the environment to the City
Like most initiatives, sustainability for the project was and is a challenge due to the one-time funding of it. There was also a loss of continuity and of the positive momentum and drive of participants after the project ended.
“Recruitment for a representative group of seniors in a specific location in Richmond was also a challenge”, says Debbie. “It was a challenge to ensure those who we wanted in the neighborhood group – especially those who are at-risk or vulnerable such as those with low income, poor health issues, living with cognitive and physical limitations, in isolation – were recruited.”
Although the drop-out rate was very low, it still had an impact. Participants who were sought to be involved dropped out as a result of the similar vulnerability factors.
How has the program adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic?
City staff continue to engage project participants and hosted a virtual meeting in December 2020 with a number of participants to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on seniors. A copy of the Engaging Seniors in Age-Friendly Planning final report has been shared with relevant stakeholders and posted on the City’s website.
For more information about the City of Richmond Age-Friendly Project, click here.