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Aging – and moving around – in the right place

March 30, 2021

By Rachel Weldrick, Postdoctoral Fellow, Aging in the Right Place (AIRP) Project

‘Aging in the right place’ is an approach aimed at supporting older people to age in their homes and communities as long as possible, while simultaneously recognizing that where an individual lives is likely to impact their ability to age optimally. Aging in the right place acknowledges that housing must support an individual’s unique lifestyles, vulnerabilities, and values. This applies to all people but can be especially critical as we age, and for older persons with experiences of homelessness (OPEH). Regardless of where you live, the features of your residence should ideally support and enable you to age as well as possible.

Outside of the home, local residential areas are key sites of daily activities and social engagement for many older people. As we age, it’s common to spend more and more time in our neighbourhood and immediate residential areas (Baltes & Baltes, 1993; Golant, 1984). This typically means that in later life people tend to take fewer trips out of the area than they do at younger ages. On the other hand, this also means that many older people tend to rely on short trips within the neighbourhood and broader community in order to meet their needs, and access amenities and services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and appointments. As such, accessible and equitable local transportation options are essential to support the needs of older people and contribute to aging in the right place.

What do we mean when we say accessible and equitable transportation options? Equitable transportation means that high-quality transportation to and from important destinations is available to those who need it, in forms that are accessible to them in terms of design, cost, and inclusivity. Equitable transportation also means developing local and regional transportation options alongside community members to ensure the inclusion of residents and communities that have historically been excluded (Stacy et al., 2020). Ultimately, it’s crucial that as people age in their communities, they maintain access to safe and reliable transportation options regardless of identity, income, or (dis)ability.

When accessible and equitable transportation options are made available to older residents, aging in the right place becomes a more attainable reality. Across many parts of Canada, car-dependent neighbourhoods are contributing to social isolation and disconnect among older people (Miller, 2017) – a social experience linked to a vast array of harmful effects (Weldrick & Grenier, 2018). This can be especially detrimental to those who do not have access to a car and/or are unable to walk extended distances to access essential amenities. At the same time, older people living in communities that have invested in substantial public transportation networks and active transportation infrastructure are likely to experience significant benefits to their overall wellbeing and social inclusion (Lamanna et al., 2020; Marquet et al., 2017).

What about older people with experiences of homelessness and/or housing insecurity (OPEH)? Accessible and equitable transportation options are critical. A recent review found that transportation options (or lack thereof) have the ability to shape both housing and non-housing outcomes for people experiencing homelessness (Murphy, 2019). In fact, research has found that a lack of accessible transportation options creates a major barrier to accessing key services (e.g., housing services, food banks, employment opportunities) among homeless individuals (Acosta & Toro, 2000; Barile et al., 2020). In addition, many people who are homeless or precariously housed report relying on active transportation (i.e., cycling and walking) because no other feasible options exist (Lugo, 2018). This type of service exclusion can make it very challenging for OPEH to ‘break the cycle’ of homelessness in the long term (Grenier et al., 2016). Building up public and active transportation infrastructure is therefore integral to supporting the needs and well-being of OPEH.

Together these experiences and findings underscore the importance of accessible and equitable transportation options for older people – including older individuals with experiences of homelessness. Local transportation in and around the community has the potential to facilitate inclusion, service access, and wellbeing on many fronts, and influences the relationship(s) we have with our place of residence. In order to age in the right place, older people – and indeed, people of all ages – must be able to move in the right place. Let’s make sure that equitable transportation remains at the forefront of our planning.

References

Acosta, O., & Toro, P. A. (2000). Let’s ask the homeless people themselves: A needs assessment based on a probability sample of adults. American Journal of Community Psychology, 28(3), 343–366.

Baltes, P. B., & Baltes, M. M. (1993). Successful aging: Perspectives from the behavioral sciences (Vol. 4). Cambridge University Press.

Barile, J. P., Pruitt, A. S., & Parker, J. L. (2020). Identifying and understanding gaps in services for adults experiencing homelessness. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 30(3), 262–277.

Golant, S. M. (1984). A place to grow old. The Meaning of Environment in old Age. Columbia University Press.

Grenier, A., Sussman, T., Barken, R., Bourgeois-Guérin, V., & Rothwell, D. (2016). ‘Growing old’in shelters and ‘on the street’: Experiences of older homeless people. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 59(6), 458–477.

Lamanna, M., Klinger, C. A., Liu, A., & Mirza, R. M. (2020). The association between public transportation and social isolation in older adults: A scoping review of the literature. Canadian Journal on Aging/La Revue Canadienne Du Vieillissement, 39(3), 393–405.

Lugo, A. E. (2018). Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance. Microcosm Publishing.

Marquet, O., Hipp, J. A., & Miralles-Guasch, C. (2017). Neighborhood walkability and active ageing: A difference in differences assessment of active transportation over ten years. Journal of Transport & Health, 7, 190–201.

Miller, G. (2017). No place to grow old: How Canadian suburbs can become age-friendly. Institute for Research on Public Policy. http://irpp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/insight-no14.pdf

Murphy, E. R. (2019). Transportation and homelessness: A systematic review. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, 28(2), 96–105.

Stacy, C., Su, Y., Noble, E., Stern, A., Blagg, K., Rainer, M., & Ezike, R. (2020). Access to Opportunity through Equitable Transportation: Lessons from Four Metropolitan Regions. Urban Institute.

Weldrick, R., & Grenier, A. (2018). Social Isolation in Later Life: Extending the Conversation. Canadian Journal on Aging / La Revue Canadienne Du Vieillissement, 37(1), 76–83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S071498081700054X