“For those 55 and over”

This past week, Councillors received an update on London’s Age Friendly Action Plan, a wonderful initiative that I believe deserves some extra attention.

For those of you who may not be aware of this laudable effort, London’s Age Friendly Action Plan was a grass-roots project initiated by the previous Council to engage Londoners aged 55 and over in a process designed to in part: (i) better prepare the City for the aging of our population and, (ii) enrich the quality of life for those long-standing and valued members of our community.  To the City’s credit, London has demonstrated considerable leadership in this area since it was recognized by the World Health Organization as part of its Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities back in 2010.

The program, which has been operating for three years is aptly led by eight action teams (supported by an equally impressive complement of City staff members), each focused on a specific target area of concern/opportunity affecting London’s senior community.  They include:

  • Outdoor Spaces & Buildings
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Social Participation
  • Respect & Inclusion
  • Communication & Information
  • Community Support and Health Services

The accomplishments of the Action teams to-date are noteworthy and can be found on the London.ca website.  The teams are now in the second iteration of their planning process and all of the action items identified in the plan are smart, progressive, measurable and achievable.

So apart from joining several Councillors in heaping praise upon this team of dedicated community leaders, why am I writing about this?

My concerns are twofold.

First, I am concerned that Council is paying less attention to the cost of city services and by extension the taxpayer.  The biggest contribution we can make on behalf for our age-friendly citizens is to keep an eye on spending, given that so many of our seniors are on fixed incomes.   While this suggestion seems obvious, the growing willingness by some Councillors (not all) to spend money on projects without complete cost data and/or limits (e.g. BRT), suggests a loss of the budgetary discipline that the majority of this Council exhibited at the start of its mandate, and an increased tax burden on a majority of those citizens who can least afford the financial hit.

Second and perhaps of more immediate concern, is that it is not clear to me why a majority of the Planning Committee would push back on a high-value proposal to build a senior’s residence along the proposed transit route, in close proximity to the hospital.  I am assuming, based on the comments of those Councillors supporting the referral, that they had concerns (once again) about the size of the facility, despite unanimously approving a London Plan steeped in the quest for increased prosperity, inward and upward, and an improved quality of life.

What frustrates me about this decision, in addition to the potential risks associated with losing the project investment and trade jobs all over a couple of floors, is that this proposal fits with so many of the Age Friendly Action Plan target areas summarized above.  It is also troubling that some Planning Committee members continue to engage in on-the-fly building design, with little regard to the impact of their decision on the economics of the project.  I could even understand and accept the referral if there was significant neighbourhood pushback, but for the most part the objections were quite tame.

Their decision is also concerning when according to a Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation Study referenced in the London Free Press this past March, London has a notable lack of seniors housing in our city as compared with our counterparts in Kitchener-Waterloo and the Niagara region.   This project fits so many of the City’s Strategic and London Plan criteria, it is hard to understand how it could suffer debate let alone defeat.

Now thankfully, one of the dissenting committee members has since indicated that the project will likely get the green light at tonight’s Council meeting, which in my view is a good thing.  I have a lot of time for public leaders, who with more information and the benefit of second thought, are confident enough to amend their decisions.

More importantly, the City of London and its Age Friendly Action teams have clearly enhanced London’s well-deserved reputation as a community that respects and embraces the contributions of this growing and valuable cohort.  Therefore, it is my hope that Council will return to its fiscally-conservative roots, and of immediate significance, remedy this housing decision to ensure that promising projects such as these and the Age Friendly constituents it is designed to serve, do not continue to get ‘lost in the shadows’.