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A Resilient City in an Aging Era: Is Toronto Living Up to Its Title?

toronto-seniors
Seniors walking in Toronto. Photo credit: Martyn
Article
January 7, 2020

This past June, the City of Toronto released its first-ever Resilience Strategy, establishing itself as one of the 100 Resilient Cities. Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, the 100 Resilient Cities movement aims to help cities worldwide to become more resilient to the physical, social, environmental, and economical challenges of the 21st century.

Toronto’s Resilience Strategy outlines three main focus areas: people and neighbourhoods; infrastructure; and leading a resilient city.2 These areas were developed using responses gathered from the Toronto community through consultations, town halls, interviews, letters, and conversations.3 The goal was to develop a strategy relevant to community needs and ideas, and over 8,000 Torontonians were engaged in that effort. However, in a city with a population of over six million, it can be challenging to ensure it’s representative of all needs, and in particular, seniors.4

For the first time in Toronto’s history, there are more people over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 15.5 As the city shifts into an aging demographic, it is crucial to consider the impacts of municipal decisions on its older residents. Identifying the ways in which a city-wide Resilience Strategy addresses—or overlooks—the needs of its senior citizens is a necessary first step.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines Resilient Cities as cities “that have the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks” and “promote sustainable development, well-being and inclusive growth.” The newly-implemented Toronto Resilience Strategy reflects this definition by both preparing for potential disturbances and targeting current stressors. With regard to addressing seniors, the strategy identifies low-income older people as a population it wishes to focus on and highlights the elderly as a critical group to consider when responding to heat waves in the city. It also suggests supporting the current Toronto Seniors Strategy and any other efforts already underway to promote resilience in the community. Furthermore, creating a strategy that addresses the cyclical, everyday systemic barriers that cause social isolation is also critical to combat the pervasive social isolation experienced by seniors.6

But—what is it missing?

The Resilience Strategy does not appear to fully take into account the aging demographic changes in the coming years. While the strategy is framed around extensive community-based evidence, it may be useful to give more thought to Toronto’s future population shifts. After all, the Resilience Strategy is a tool to brace for the impact of future changes and the fact that Toronto’s population is progressively aging, is a key consideration that should be highlighted. 

For instance, the strategy could stress the importance of health and nutrition in building resilience to environmental, social and economic shocks. Having healthy and strong individual residents, no matter what age, aids a city in coping and recovering from unexpected disturbances.7 Food and nutrition are crucial in building healthy communities—should it not be crucial in building resilient communities as well? 

Beyond promoting healthy aging and nutritional policies, the Resilience Strategy could integrate an aging population into a few of the pre-existent action plans. For instance, Action B3.1, Toronto’s City-Wide Mobility Action Plan, could refer to seniors as being a particular group that would benefit from enhanced mobility throughout the city. As Toronto’s population gets older, the Resilience Strategy could identify this action plan as a way to assist its future older commuters. Merely acknowledging the impending aging shift in Toronto would promote awareness of future, city-wide changes.

Despite minimal mention of an aging demographic, Toronto’s Resilience Strategy is an incredible project and has an inspiring mission. A city that is devoted to creating a multi-year strategy to attend to and prepare for barriers and stressors within its entire community provides hope for the future. Congratulations Toronto, on becoming a Resilient City! But, let’s keep in mind that there is still further work to do. Although consultations have been completed, citizens can still go to the City of Toronto website to provide thoughts and feedback on the new Resilience Strategy. I encourage you to take a look and decide for yourself – is Toronto living up to its Resilient City title?

Notes:

  1. “About Us.” 100 Resilient Cities. 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019. http://100resilientcities.org/about-us/#section-2.
  2. City of Toronto. “Resilience Strategy.” City of Toronto. June 03, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019. https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/water-environment/environmentally-friendly-city-initiatives/resilientto/.
  3. Ibid
  4. Statistics Canada. “Census Profile, 2016 Census: Toronto Metropolitan, Ontario.” Statistics Canada. 2019.
  5. Statistics Canada. 2017. Toronto, C [Census subdivision], Ontario and Ontario [Province] (table). Census Profile. 2016 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-X2016001. Ottawa. Released November 29, 2017. Accessed June 9, 2019. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/index.cfm?Lang=E
  6. Keefe, Janice, Melissa Andrew, Pamela Fancey, and Madelyn Hall. A Profile of Social Isolation in Canada. Report. Department of Family Studies and Gerontology, Mount Saint Vincent University. Halifax, NS: Centre on Aging Nova Scotia, 2006. 1-35. https://www.health.gov.bc.ca/library/publications/year/2006/keefe_social_isolation_final_report_may_2006.pdf.
  7. Raheem, Dele. “Food and Nutrition Security as a Measure of Resilience in the Barents Region.” Urban Science 2, no. 3 (2018): 72. doi:10.3390/urbansci2030072.