Concordia’s B/OLD event examined what makes an age-friendly city

Concordia professors Shannon Hebblethwaite and Kim Sawchuk, co-organizers of the B/OLD: Aging in our City conference.

The third annual B/OLD: Aging in our City two-day public event series took place May 16 and 17, with extended programming in Concordia University’s 4th Space ending May 24.

During the event, that took place at the De Sève Cinema of Concordia University, researchers, city and borough officials, policymakers, engineers, urban planners, community activists, students and members of the public exchanged ideas on the many nuanced aspects of aging in Montreal.

“Through B/OLD we both hope to highlight the realities of our aging, at the same time as we assert that we are not just in a state of decline. We all have much to offer at each and every stage of our lives,” stated co-organizers Shannon Hebblethwaite, and Kim Sawchuk, in their opening remarks to a large crowd of all ages. Hebblethwaite, PhD, is associate professor in the department of applied human science and director of engAge, the Concordia Centre for Research on Aging. Sawchuk, PhD, is professor in the department of communication studies and director of Concordia’s ACT Project (Ageing, Communication, Technologies).

During the workshop titled “What is an Age Friendly City?” panellist Nadia Bastien, head of the division of social diversity in the municipal government, informed that both the provincial and municipal governments had adopted the definition, promoted by the World Health Organization in Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide, that age friendly cities are those that offer facilities and services that respond to the evolving needs of its citizens as they transition into the various phases of life so that they can foster a sense of attachment to their community.

Bastien mentioned that in 2010, Montreal and its borough officials began working towards ensuring that its structures and services conformed to this definition. She said that following an extensive consultative process with aging adults, accessibility, security and community engagement emerged as their top three priorities. She added that the municipal government had recently implemented an action plan to support the fluid needs of all its citizens.

Also of note were the ideas presented by the panellists of “Aging and our Lived Environments” on a variety of housing options aimed at reducing isolation. These included Concordia’s intergenerational home-share project that matches students seeking housing with older adults with spare living spaces, and home-shares where older adults seek their own group of roommates.

In her keynote address, Larissa Hjorth, PhD, professor at the University of Melbourne, presented ideas on creating playful intergenerational spaces. Hjorth applauded Montreal for the many intergenerational community play areas that already exist.

Jennifer Boger, PhD, engineering professor at the University of Waterloo, presented her research on innovative ways of building technologies that complement aging that includes intergenerational immersive virtual reality games. “By building interesting things that people want to do, this could start to flip the stereotype in that older adults can become geeky gamers too,” she stated.

The lobby was filled with tables and kiosks where community groups showcased their services for older adults. At the art hive, also located in the lobby, participants could pick up a paintbrush and add their mark to an intergenerational graffiti. In the escape room on elder abuse interactive, educational and immersive games helped shed light on this sensitive, complex issue. A choir composed of children and older adults affected by dementia held a heart-warming sing along during a lunch break. A podcast recording was produced and all had an opportunity to share their thoughts on the realities of aging.

This exchange of ideas was very stimulating and thought provoking and some may be communicated to the policymakers. “We take ideas we receive at forums like this one to decide on future research projects, to provide data to make the arguments about what we hear and deal with, the kind of questions that people in this audience have for themselves and for their futures,” said Sawchuk.

“By attending this conference I see in this part of the population an eager desire to just get involved in the society and have projects for themselves and start stuff to be more alive with the society,” remarked Maryse Murray, who had also attended the first public conference.

The conference was simultaneous transcribed into English, French and interpreted in Quebec Sign Language. Admission was free.

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