As a part of its ongoing Project Calgary series, the Calgary Herald featured the Ward 11 community of Kelvin Grove, and one of its residents, Mr. Art Patterson, in an article about aging communities. Kelvin Grove has the 3rd highest concentration of seniors in the city, and is just one of the 27 diverse communities that make up Ward 11. You can read the article here, or I have posted a PDF copy here.
Greying Neighbourhoods in Transition
CALGARY — In 1962, Art Patterson moved his family into their new home on Kelsey Place. It was still under construction, one of the first on the quiet cul-de-sac to be built. In the cedar-sided home, the geological engineer and his wife, Margaret, a nurse, raised four children, watching them grow from elementary students to high-school graduates and onto university and children of their own.
Margaret died three years ago, and Patterson, now 87, lives alone in the Kelvin Grove home. The southwest community is home to the third-highest concentration of seniors in Calgary, with one in three residents aged 65 or older.
“The place got dull, dull as hell, a few years ago — bunch of old fogeys,” Patterson says half-jokingly. “But then some younger people have been buying houses and moving in, and now we’ve got road hockey in the winter time going on in the cul-de-sac, little ones riding around on tricycles and some on bicycles with training wheels. You can hear kids playing and laughing. I think it’s wonderful — it completely enlivens the place.”
Patterson’s experience in Kelvin Grove is playing out in communities all over the city. Data examined as part of Project Calgary show that as the total population ages, many communities — especially those made up almost exclusively of single-family homes — are struggling with the implications of a greying population. While high populations of senior citizens bring unique benefits to communities, such as high rates of volunteerism and engagement on many levels, they also have unique problems, from housing to affordability to questions of regeneration.
Kelvin Grove is part of a tri-community association, along with Eagle Ridge and Chinook Park. Association president Wendy Kennelly says the high concentration of seniors, many of whom are original owners of their homes, speaks to the quality of living in this area. The association offers seniors movement classes and coffee sessions at its community hall. Membership is high, with 54 per cent participation this year, of which 34 per cent is seniors. Kennelly notes that the demographics are just starting to shift — people who grew up in these neighbourhoods are now starting to move back in with their own young families.
The association is working with the city to review how part of the neighbourhood will be developed.
“We have the opportunity now to paint a picture to city representatives of how we’d like to see that commercial area more a part of our community than working against us all the time, being one big commercial mosh pit,” Kennelly says. “We tried to paint a picture of more recreation space, park space and a seniors’ exercise park.”
Although the area has extended care and assisted living accommodations for seniors who need to move out of their homes, these facilities may not cater to those who live close by.
“I don’t think there are enough options in our area,” Kennelly says. “There are long waiting lists, so I don’t know if the ability to make that decision, to be in your neighbourhood, is really accessible.”
Country Hills Village, in the city’s northwest, is a new community, but its population is the sixth oldest in Calgary, with a concentration of 28 per cent seniors.
The concentration is deliberate, says Northern Hills Community Association president Wendy Cavanagh, with its seniors condos, and a facility that caters from independent and assisted living all the way to extended care. Her mother, 82, lives in Lighthouse Landing, a seniors condo complex in Country Hills Village.
“We moved (my parents) back from B.C. so that we could look after them,” Cavanagh says, but that didn’t mean they would remain close by — open spaces in seniors housing facilities in Calgary are difficult to come by. “Since then, my dad has been put in a home. He’s in a home in Bowness because Bethany Care in Harvest (Hills) and Newport (in Country Hills Village) are full with waiting lists.”
For a community with a high concentration of seniors, it can still be difficult for seniors to connect with their communities if there is not programming nearby. Transportation is a problem, as is the neighbourhood’s lack of a community hall in which to meet.
Dell Sudnick has been working for six years to provide some programming for seniors and has arranged to use a room at Panorama Hills Community Centre for a few hours a week. “I got tired of having to drive half an hour to 45 minutes to do an activity. That’s fine when you can still drive,” she says. Now, a group of about 25 meets regularly.
A seniors resource fair survey Sudnick organized in September showed seniors, mostly in the 61 to 70 age range, are interested in physical activity such as yoga and floor curling, classes and games.
With seniors moving to the neighbourhood to be close to family, it’s crucial for them to be able to make new friends and have activities to go to, Sudnick says. The area is lacking in senior support services.
“Of the social agencies, none are here. It’s very difficult for us up here,” she says. For those with mobility or transportation problems, even getting to the closest health lab in Beddington is a huge undertaking by transit.
One of the challenges facing all communities is establishing a mixture of ages among its residents to ensure a sustainable population diversity that avoids the demographic waves that can cause boom-and-bust problems during different eras.
Sunalta, established in 1910 on the west side of downtown, is old enough to have one of Calgary’s beautiful turn-of-the-century sandstone schools, but the neighbourhood has the seventh lowest number of seniors in the city. Sunalta was originally owned by Canadian Pacific Railways and was annexed in 1907 for residential living. The face of the neighbourhood has changed substantially since its earlier days of mostly single family homes, says Kevin Ritchot, past president of the Sunalta Community Association.
“Sometime in the 1960s or ’70s all of the houses on 10th, 11th and half of 12th avenues were all demolished,” Ritchot says. “They were demolished in big sections because they were run down. A lot of apartment buildings were built there. Now they’re old apartment buildings, and not the nicest of buildings. Because it’s close to downtown, I would expect that would attract a younger population.”
As part of the city’s community and neighbourhood services initiative, the association is helping build a sense of community. One of the challenges associations face is hosting social events that engage all age groups.
“The one thing that really does appeal to everybody is our Stampede breakfast,” Ritchot says. “That seems to be the only one that seems to get everyone out.” Other events, such as dinners or afternoon teas seem to appeal to a more narrow demographic.
Still, the things that attract people to communities decades ago are often the same things today. In Kelvin Grove, what attracted Patterson and his family was a stable community with mostly single-family homes, schools, little crime and space to grow.
It may well be the space that keeps the Kelvin Grove residents from moving away too quickly. Patterson values having a garden and trees and objects to the city’s move toward higher density living, even while appreciating the reasons behind the shift.
Patterson recalls working with a man who moved from New York to Toronto.
“His four-year-old son was beside himself because ‘Daddy owns a tree.’ ” The boy amused himself by running circles out the side door and in the back door, all the while in the safety of the fenced backyard. It’s an amount of space that Patterson’s grandchildren, who live in a newer Calgary suburb, don’t have.