July 26, 2023

How livable are YYC neighbourhoods? Older adults answer the question in words and photos

Calgary seniors’ photovoice exhibit, led by UCalgary Faculty of Social Work researcher, captures the challenges and elements that make a livable neighbourhood
Images from Through their lens photo exhibit
Photovoice images from Calgary seniors capturing the livability of their neighbourhoods. Courtesy participants CoCOA research project

Most people, especially younger and more mobile people, probably don’t notice a thing. It’s just a little bit of snow piled up in front of the crossing button at a typical Calgary intersection. However, to an older adult, trying to cross an icy road with a walking stick, that mound of snow could as well have been a mountain.

“They weren't cleaning off that area where you push the button… you'd have to be like climbing up a mountain of snow ... when you're a senior, and you're using a stick, it's not very good.”

This perspective is from a Calgary senior, one of 13 participants who will be sharing photos of their lived experience in a Calgary neighbourhood on Thursday, July 27 at Calgary’s Kerby Centre, 1133 7th Ave. S.W.

Through Their Lens: Older Adults’ Experiences of Accessibility and Aging in Community is a special photovoice research exhibition, led by University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work researcher Dr. Yeonjung Lee, PhD.

It follows her previous research that used civic census data to highlight that more than three-quarters of the Calgary’s 204 neighbourhoods are rapidly aging. From these neighbourhoods she identified eight communities of concern for older adults (CoCOA) based on their accessibility to necessary services by walking or transit.

Social environment, accessibility, cultural supports and diversity are important factors

The quantitative research left questions regarding what seniors’ actual perceptions were of their own neighbourhoods. Thursday evening’s presentation at the Kerby Centre follows up with a graphic representation of the things that are important to them as well as the barriers they face.

Seniors were given cameras or used their cellphones to take pictures of things that helped or hindered the livability of their neighbourhood, including their ability to access essential services.

“It was amazing to learn about the meanings of accessibility and aging in community to seniors in their own voice, based on their experiences and perception, which the quantitative data would never catch,” says Lee. “One of main findings that stood out to me was that it wasn’t just the physical environment that mattered to seniors. The social environment also really matters.”

The social environment includes the seniors’ ability to enjoy social activities and maintain their connections with family and friends. It’s been shown that a lack of social connection can lead to isolation when seniors are aging in the community.

Lee was also interested to see that diversity was prized by the older adults who said they prefer to live in a community with a mix of different ages and cultural backgrounds.

“Diversity was highlighted in two ways,” she says. “First, as an important part of an ideal community, and second, as an access to their own ethno-cultural supports.”

Equity issues surfaced in the research, often related to the accessibility issues faced by many seniors.

“The seniors noted that in some neighbourhoods they often have fewer options for services,” Lee says. “For example, if they can’t access a larger grocery store, they’re forced to pay a lot more at a convenience store that they can access around the corner.”

Researcher hopes findings will help shape future policy and planning decisions

Lee hopes that her ongoing research will help to inform future policy and planning in the city of Calgary and raise awareness about the need to ensure that Calgary neighbourhoods are accessible and livable for everyone.

Lee’s research has been being supported, in part, by a gift from the late Grant Allen, who also created the Patricia Allen Memorial Graduate Scholarship in the Faculty of Social Work to honour his late wife Patricia Allen, MSW ’69. Patricia Allen, who led the creation of Calgary’s Kerby Centre in 1972, was one of the faculty’s first grads and a lifelong passionate advocate and ally for seniors.

Yeonjung Lee is an associate professor at the Faculty of Social Work and a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, and O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine.

Through Their Lens: Older Adults’ Experiences of Accessibility and Aging in Community
Photovoice exhibit and research presentation

July 27, 2023
5 - 8 p.m. MDT
Kerby Centre, 1133-7 Ave SW

Special thanks to the Kerby Centre for sponsoring the event