Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Will You Still Need Me When I'm 64?

 This past week saw a celebration of the 45th anniversary of the release of the Beatles seminal album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The reminiscences took me back to suburban Toronto, where I grew up, and rushing to Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street to buy the album, for, I think $3.98. 

Now that age 64 isn’t that far off, the contrast between being 64 in 1967 and today couldn’t be more pronounced.  Today, people in their 60s are active walkers, cyclists, skiers, hikers, sailors, swimmers, canoers, kayakers—all activities that I doubt many of our grandparents lived long enough to enjoy.  And unlike our parents and grandparents’ generations, there are fewer smokers or heavy drinkers in our midst.

Physical exercise of any kind benefits the individual in many ways.  Even a walk on the rainiest, cool day can result in a feeling of well-being.  And what makes a walk or bike ride more pleasant than enjoying the neighbourhoods that have been designed with the walker or cyclist in mind—such as plenty of crosswalks and protection from busy vehicle traffic?

Growing up in my neighbourhood in the 1950s and 60s, every street had a grass verge of about 8 feet separating the sidewalk from the roadway.  It was a good design for  suburban streets.  More challenging are older neighbourhoods, designed without reference to the motor vehicle that had not yet achieved supreme dominance in society.  Often these sidewalks abut busy arterial roads, making it intimidating, noisy and unpleasant for the pedestrian.

Changing expectations of the community are also changing the way that forward-thinking transportation engineers view their raison d'être—from mainly moving vehicle traffic to ensuring that streets are places for everyone on foot, bicycle, pushing a baby pram, walker or wheelchair.

We want to ensure that there is room for the 64, 74, 84, 94 and 104 year-olds to enjoy our neighbourhoods and commercial hubs. Everyone benefits when our community spaces are inclusive, welcoming and accessible.

—Lesley Ewing

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