My husband and I recently returned from 10 weeks visiting family and friends in the United States. We travelled to several states by plane, bus and car and found our way through airports, cities, towns and rural communities. We had a great time and enjoyed every experience – even being gridlocked for three hours on a freeway in Phoenix because of a massive thunderstorm and subsequent flooding!
We are delighted to be home again on the beautiful Hibiscus Coast and in catching up on the news I note that October 1 is the 25th International Day of Older Persons. This year’s theme for the day is “Sustainability and Age Inclusiveness in Urban Environments”, which is focused on making cities and their communities easier and more elder-friendly places to live in. Of course signs and information centres to facilitate easier travel is only one aspect of age-friendly communities but I trust you will see my train of thought as I pursue this topic.
Nearly 25 percent of the population on the Hibiscus Coast is aged 65 or over and this age group is expected to number 1.2 million in New Zealand in 20 years. Population ageing is one of the biggest social transformations in the 21st century and adapting city structures to the needs of a growing population is a sound preparation to meet the challenges of changing demographics.
The World Health Organisation has been actively promoting the concept of age-friendly cities for several decades as a way of meeting the challenges of increasing and aging city populations. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will double from about 11 percent to 22 percent.
The City of Tauranga is leading the way in New Zealand and has become our first Age-Friendly City. A strategy has been developed, working with several local organisations and groups, to enable people to live independently and participate in all aspects of community and city life as they age. It is early days yet but issues are being identified that will enable appropriate policies, services, settings and structures related to the physical and social environment to support older people to ‘age actively’, that is, to live in security, enjoy good health and continue to participate fully in society.
Auckland Grey Power associations have been pursuing Auckland Council to make our city an Age-Friendly City and although there have been some sympathetic ears, no decision has been made. We will continue to pursue this. In the meantime, let’s look at the Hibiscus Coast. Is it an age-friendly community? Do older people feel safe, supported, appreciated and cared for? Let me know what you think (email address above).
Simonne Dyer is currently secretary of Hibiscus Coast Grey Power. She has been with the organisation for three years.