I’d Rather Stay documentary video screenings: reflecting back and looking forward

In celebration of Senior’s Week 2014, our community partners are hosting two upcoming screenings of I’d Rather Stay:

  • 1:30 pm, Monday June 02: Fraser River Presentation Theatre, Langley
  • 7:00 pm, Thursday June 05: Maple Ridge Municipal Hall, Maple Ridge

These are free events, and everyone is welcome to attend.

Our excitement in sharing I’d Rather Stay and facilitating conversation about ‘what makes a neighbourhood a good place to grow old,’ is also cause to reflect on our November documentary video premiere at Vancity Theatre. Our Active Streets Active People (ASAP) team hosted >200 attendees for a screening and discussion. This included older adult representatives from 9 different British Columbia community-based organizations. The discussion was both heartfelt and constructive. We heard from older adults themselves, doctors, urban planners, and concerned citizens. The focus was on what different Greater Vancouver municipalities are doing to make their neighbourhoods more ‘age-friendly,’ and strategizing for greater future actions. From talking to participants, we know the event not only helped to enliven old connections but also encouraged participants to form new ones.

Here are a few photo highlights (by Christina Thiele): 


Kamlesh Seti, documentary participant with Thea Franke, CHHM Project Manager



Bett and Roy Bull, documentary participants with Callista Haggis, Director



Full house!

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Spring into spring with activities good for your health

Spring into spring with activities good for your health

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Learning from the past to decrease social isolation in the future- urban planning and older adults

ImageOn one of our seemingly endless summer days, the ASAP team conducted an on-camera interview with the Vice President of the Canadian Urban Institute, Glenn Miller. Calm, articulate, and with a sweet demeanor, Glenn was in town to speak at Infuse 2013, the Canadian Institute of Planners conference. We were interviewing him for a forthcoming documentary about the relationship between older adults, their neighbourhoods, and their health.  As a Peter Wall Solutions Initiative Intern, I was responsible for monitoring the audio as we filmed. I readied myself by propping up the boom mic with one arm and holding one side of my headphones against my face with the other. My eagerness to hear from an urban design pundit helped me to concentrate on Glenn Miller’s voice amidst the sounds of summer in Coal Harbour.

Glenn expressed that we “cannot make the same mistakes.” This refers to the development of urban environments that promote automobile dependency, rather than active transportation. One implication of this post-WWII dominant urban planning trend, is that — for reasons physical or financial – once individuals are no longer able to drive, they may be isolated from fundamental services. Relative to the environmental and economic impacts of automobile travel, the social outcomes of automobile dependency are ostensibly less understood.[i]

Glenn emphasized that many Canadian Seniors (individuals 65+) intend to stay in their long-time homes, or “age in place.” If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, ageing in place means individuals sustain their residence in the community, rather than in residential care, and have a higher level of independence.[ii] According to a study conducted by one of Canada’s national housing authorities, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 85% of adults over the age of 55 plan to live in their current homes for as long as possible.[iii] With Canadian seniors soon to represent a quarter of the population, there is an urgent need for strategies that ensure older adults have the supports they need to age in place healthily, and/or encourage the development of attractive alternatives to ‘suburban-style’ sprawl.[iv] The age of 70 stands as an average marker of reduced capacity to drive a car safely, rendering those in the later years of their 70s and their early 80s more or less stranded should they choose to continue to reside in neighbourhoods where a car functions as a pair of legs.[v]

Car travel’s impact on social life

This gap between the intentions of citizens and the provisions of our city landscapes led me to investigate the psychological and social factors which impact and are impacted by the need to get around without a vehicle. I found that the dominance of automobile travel has a significant impact on social life. Engels and Liu (2011) write that isolation from non-motorized and public transportation options results in social exclusion. [vi] Additionally, once no longer behind the wheel, former drivers are likely to suffer from depression, which is a springboard to negative health impacts. (Go HERE for more information )[vii]

A multiplicity of related terms are used to describe an inadequate social life, the main two being: loneliness, a subjective feeling, and social isolation, an objective state. Psychological factors are expressed directly by physical health. Feelings of loneliness have been related to an increase in the emergence of diabetes, emphysema, heart disease, hypertension and stroke.[viii] Loneliness can act as a precursor to institutionalization, the opposite of ageing in place.[ix]

Walking and social life

Intuitively, social participation and walking have been independently linked to lower rates of depression.[x] These two emotionally beneficial activities are intertwined: when access to a car is impaired, frequent walks outside offer the opportunity to engage in social interaction. A walk down the street can grow a general feeling of trust, generated by eye contact with other people.[xi] Individually, when walking is done often, the practice builds feelings of self-mastery and self-worth.[xii] Those positive reflections on the self actually serve a protective function in the body.[xiii] Together, the physical and emotional stimulation of frequent walks outside are expressed in a multitude of physical benefits of traveling car-free: reduced risk for heart disease (second to cancer in causing fatalities) and obesity, and increased overall physical fitness.[xiv]

Automobile dependency has the potential to significantly limit social contact.[xv] Through sharing the stories of older adults in different neighbourds, ASAP’s forthcoming documentary addresses issues of Canada’s ageing demographic, their social and physical health, and strategies for future urban planning. The team is grateful to feature Glenn Miller among a host of insightful interview subjects. As Canada’s baby-boomers lead the way into a new demographic trend, the hope is that the built environments in which we live will positively impact us, in body and mind.

The documentary will premiere at VanCity Theatre November 20th, 2013 (2:00 pm). For more information please contact Callista.haggis@hiphealth.ca

Blog by Kathryn Mandell, Peter Wall Solutions Initiative Intern


Boyce, C. (2010). Walkability, social inclusion and social isolation and street redesign. Built Environment, 36(4) 461-473.

Browning, C., Sims, J. (2012). Ageing without driving: keeping older people connected. In: Currie, G., Stanley, J., Stanley, J. (Eds.), No Way to Go: Transport and Social Disadvantage in Australian Communities. Monash University ePress, Clayton.

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation & Canadian Urban Institute. (2012). Housing for older Canadians: the definitive guide to the over 55 market. Retrieved from: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/odpub/pdf/67514.pdf

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2008). Community Indicators for an Aging Population. Retrieved from: https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/odpub/pdf/66099.pdf?fr=1349968864671

Engels, B. & Liu, G. (2011). Social exclusion, location and transport disadvantage amongst non-driving seniors in a Melbourne municipality, Australia. Journal of Transport Geography, 19(4) 984-996.

Graham, J. (2013, May 1). Does depression contribute to dementia? The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/01/does-depression-contribute-to-dementia/?_r=0

Julien, D., Gauvin, L., Richard, L., Kestens, Y., and Payette, H. (2013).The role of social participation and walking in depression among older adults: results from the VoisiNuAge Study. Canadian Journal on Aging, 32(1) 1-12.

Lord, S. & Luxembourg, N. (2006). The mobility of elderly residents living in suburban territories: mobility experiences in Canada and France. Journal of Housing for the Elderly, 20(4) 103-121.

Medical Advisory Secretariat. (2008) Social isolation in community-dwelling seniors: an evidence-based

analysis. Ontario Health Technology Assessment Series, 8(5) 1-49.

Reynolds, C. Winters, M.R., Francis J. (2010). Active Transportation in Urban Areas: Exploring Health Benefits and Risks. Vancouver, B.C.: National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health.

Shlomo, S.B., Taubman-Ben-Ari, O. (2012). New grandparents’ mental health: the protective role of optimism, self-mastery, and social support. Journal of Family Social Work, 15(4) 254-271.

Tomaka, J., Thompson, S. & Palacios, R. (2006) The relation of social isolation, loneliness, and social support to disease outcomes among the elderly. Journal of Aging and Health, 18(3) 359-384.

Wiles, J., Leibing, A., Guberman, N., Reeve, J. & Allen, R. (2012). The Meaning of “Ageing in Place” to Older People. The Gerontologist, 52(3) 357-366.

[i] Browning & Sims, 2007, p. 1.1

[ii] Wiles, Leibeing, Guberman, Reeve & Allen, 2012, p. 357, from: Davey, Nana, de Joux, & Arcus, 2004, p. 133.

[iii] Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation & Canadian Urban Institute, 2012, p. 2.

[iv] Lord & Luxembourg, 2006, p. 103.

[v] Engels & Liu, 2011, p. 986, from: Browning and Sims, 2007; Burns, 1999; Foley et al., 2002; Rosenbloom, 2001.

[vi] Reynolds, Winters & Francis, 2010, p. 1.

[vii] Graham, 2013.

[viii] Tomaka, Thompson & Palacios, 2006, p. 376.

[ix] Medical Advisory Secretatiat, 2008, p. 9.

[x] Julien, Gauvin, Kestens & Payette, 2013.

[xi] Boyce, 2010, p. 461, from: Urry, 2003, p. 184

[xii] Julien et al, 2013, p. 2.

[xiii] Shlomo & Taubman-Ben-Ari, 2012, p.  255.

[xiv] Reynolds, Winters & Francis, 2010, p. 1.

[xv] Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2008, p. 2.

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Age-friendly design on the Seoul Subway System

Last month I travelled to the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics World Congress in Seoul, Korea. Active Streets Active People team members (such as myself) are trained to observe how different environments facilitate the mobility of older adults. In this blog post, I would like to share with you some of the neat things that Korean planners have done to make it easier for older adults to get around on their public transit system.

With a population of 11 million, the Seoul subway line is massive. It consists of 17 different lines serving a sprawling city.


Imagine you are an older adult trying to make you way from one station to another. First, you will take a series of hallways, elevators and escalators to the train. At some stations, there are moving sidewalks (like the long treadmills that you see in airports). If you are able to walk, making your way to a train is a great opportunity to get some exercise!

ImageAs you approach the train you will look for small brass arrows on the ground. These brass arrows are engraved with the picture of an older adult, seated with a cane. If you wait at these designated arrows, when the train stops you will be in the correct position to step onto a car in which most of the seats are reserved for older adults, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.

When I waited at this arrow (I was intrigued) I noticed that most younger people looked down at the arrow, realized that this was a designated section, and moved in order to get onto another car.

ImageThen you will want to find a seat. In these designated cars, there are two sections. The first section is for pregnant women, people with disabilities, and people travelling with babies or small children. The second section is for the same people, but it is also saved for older adults.

In some cars, the sections for older adults are clearly demarcated in colourful seats. The “everybody” seats are covered in bright blue upholstery fabric, while the seats for older adults are covered in a dark red. On my first day in Seoul I almost accidently sat in a red seat, when a Korean friend grabbed my arm and said “You can’t sit there!” (With 11 million people, I was never able to get a clear shot of this seating arrangement, so I have provided you with a visual).

special seats CT blog J

 My trips on the Seoul Subway system reminded me that we can always learn from different contexts, and there is always someone, somewhere in the world, who has found a creative solution to an everyday problem. If you see a clever design that makes life easier for an older adult, be sure to share it with us!


 By Catherine Tong, MA, Doctoral Trainee

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Raise awareness about the importance of age-friendly neighbourhoods – ‘like’ our photo in the INFUSE 2013 photo contest!

Words and numerical data may be the most common way to share information in academia, but there are many other creative ways to communicate important messages. As one such example, the ASAP team views the INFUSE 2013 Photo Contest as an opportunity to raise discussion and awareness about how neighbourhood built environments significantly impact (positively or negatively) the health and well being of older adults.[1][2][3]

Land-use patterns, sidewalks, and streetlight crossing-times all shape health outcomes. Still not convinced? The World Health Organization positions healthy urban planning as a top priority to improve health globally.[4][5]  

The Canadian Institute of Planners National Conference (INFUSE 2013) is therefore a great venue for discussion. Raise the profile of older adult mobility by ‘liking’ our photo titled, Time to Cross in the People in Space category on the INFUSE photo competition website. Just follow this link!

Photos will be displayed throughout the conference and winners will be recognized at the closing gala.

Thank you in advance,

The ASAP team

[1] Brownson RC, Hoehner CM, Day K, Forsyth A, Sallis JF: Measuring the built environment for physical activity: state of the science. Am J Prev Med 2009, 36:S99-123 e112
[2]Sallis JF, Glanz K: The role of built environments in physical activity, eating, and obesity in childhood. Future Child 2006, 16:89-108.
[3] The Public Health Advisory Committee: Healthy places, healthy lives: urban    environments and wellbeing. Wellington: Ministry of Health; 2010.
[4] Frumkin H, Frank L, Jackson RJ: Urban sprawl and public health: Designing, planning    and building for healthy communities. Washington DC: Island Press; 2004.
[5] World Health Organization: Healthy urban planning. report of a consultation meeting.  Kobe: World Health Organization; 2011.
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Independent school travel – a thing from the past?

It is 8:04 am on a Tuesday morning in a small Northern Germany village, September 1989. A handful of kids play by the side of the road, unsupervised by an adult. We are waiting for the public transit bus to take us to school in the neighbouring village. This was only my second school day – I was 6 years old.

Some 20-odd years later, I was studying for my PhD in England. Like many other health researchers, I was interested in understanding what behaviours can help young people lead healthier, more active lives. One of my papers showed that youth who walked or cycled were fitter and more active than those using motorized transport. The real discovery for me, however, and one that has since certainly shaped my research focus, was the startling reality of how many English students were regularly driven to school by car. Practically unheard of during my childhood in Germany, I couldn’t help but wonder: what happened?

Independent school travel – a thing from the past?


A recent study from the Policy Studies Institute at the University of Westminster sheds some light on this puzzle. The research looked at transport to school in England and Germany during the past 40 years. In England, the number of children who were traveling between school and home without an adult dropped from 86% in 1971 to only 25% in 2010. At the same time, no such drastic drop was observed in Germany, where far more children were allowed to travel independently and at younger ages.

Why is independent school travel so important?

Independent school travel is related to ‘independent mobility’, which refers to a child’s ability to move and play freely in the neighbourhood without adult supervision. In turn, this is related to greater physical activity levels. Children are naturally more active outdoors, but they may also have an empowering independence to go to destinations that encourage physical activity, such as a park. In addition, independent mobility promotes higher levels of sociability and community cohesion (see original paper for more info).

Why aren’t they doing it?

The cross-cultural comparison between England and Germany suggests that declines in active and independent travel are not just a natural consequence of modern life. We can’t yet explain with precision the difference between the two countries. Certainly, matters are likely to be different again here in North America. In fact, transport to school is affected by a whole host of complex factors, including policies, infrastructure, as well as personal preference and convenience. But we know that two main barriers to active, independent travel to school are distance and parental safety concerns. There is little we can do about the distance, but we and many other researchers around the world are working hard to better understand what elements of the neighbourhood environment are important so that we can create and preserve environments in which children can roam freely and independently.


By Christine Voss, Postdoctoral Fellow

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Newly published research on how where we live affects why we walk

Does our neighbourhood affect why we walk? An Australian research team, led by Dr. Billie Giles-Corti, addressed this (and a few other) questions in a four-year natural experiment. Their recently published year one results investigated the impact of the built environment on walking for transport (i.e. to a destination such as a store or work) and recreation (i.e. for pleasure, health, or fitness).

Photo by Sandra Chung

Photo by Sandra Chung

1437 adults reported their walking behaviors before and after moving to new housing developments across metropolitan Perth. The study found that the influence of built environment features on behavior depended on participants’ reasons for walking. Specifically, increases in transport-related walking were related to improved access to transport-related destinations like post offices, bus stops, shopping centres, etc., as well as participants’ perceptions of favorable changes to transport-related neighbourhood features. For example, having footpaths on most streets and safe walking areas. On the other hand, changes in participants’ attitudes and enjoyment towards walking in their new neighbourhood largely accounted for changes in time spent in recreational walking. These findings highlight the fact that how much individuals walk is influenced by the interplay between neighbourhood design, individuals’ perceptions of their neighbourhood, and their feelings towards and reasons for walking.

 Dr. Billie Giles-Corti is the keynote speaker at the Walk the Talk and ASAP Symposium in early November 2013. Stay tuned for more details about the symposium!

The influence of urban design on neighbourhood walking following residential relocation: Longitudinal results from the RESIDE, by Dr. Billie Giles-Corti et. al, was published in Social Science and Medicine. Volume 77, pages 20-30.


By Anna Chudyk, PhD Candidate

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Active Living Conference, 2013: Integrating Research, Policy and Practice (links to presentations online)

The theme of this year’s highly anticipated Active Living Conference (February 26 – 28, 2013) was Achieving Change Across Sectors: Integrating Research, Policy and Practice.

Conference workshops and presentations were diverse and engaging. Topics included:

  • Digital Community-Based Participatory Research Tools
  • Health in All Policies: Identifying Partners to Address the Root Causes of Health Inequities
  • Bike Score: Does Urban Bikeability Predict Cycling Behavior?
  • Impact of Park Renovations on Park Use and Park-based Physical Activity
  • Comprehensive Evaluation of a Multilevel Physical Activity Intervention in Older Adults
  • The Use of Webcams and Internet Crowd-Sourcing to Evaluate Built Environment Change

…to name a few!


‘Zumba-ing the talk’ during a conference physical activity session

I had the pleasure to present Walk in My Shoes: Establishing Researcher-Stakeholder Relationships that Encourage Neighbourhood Physical and Social Activity. My presentation featured the process and outcomes of a community-based event (titled Walk in My Shoes) that we (CHHM/ASAP/WTT) hosted in Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood. The aim of Walk in My Shoes was to better understand those features of the built environment that help or hinder older adults’ mobility. Find the full summary report we distributed to stakeholders here.

My slides are currently online (although they are mostly pictures!) and all of other Active Living Conference presentations will be available soon. Be sure to check the Active Living Research website for updates. The website is a great online resource for anyone interested in current research and best practices about decreasing barriers and increasing opportunities for neighbourhood environments to promote physical activity.


By Callista Haggis, Knowledge Broker, ASAP

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Visualize it! Transportation that supports physical activity

Here on the ASAP Blog we talk about the “built environment” – this can include things like streets, parks, services and amenities, such as public transit. Research shows that the built environment hugely impacts our physical activity levels, our waistline, and our health. Kids with an environment that supports play are more active. People with more sidewalks in their neighbourhoods are more likely to meet the recommended amounts of physical activity. For more fun facts about the built environment and how it supports activity, check out these neat “infographics” from Active Living Research:



 By Catherine Tong, Doctoral Trainee

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Please say hello to your neighbour!

By Dr. Joanie Sims-Gould

sitting on bench

Sure our ASAP research team is interested in the intersection between health (physical and social), mobility (getting around) and the built environment (features of your neighbourhood) but we are also equally interested in being good citizens.  To us this means conducting sound scientific research and it also means giving back; giving back by hosting research related events and by synthesizing relevant cutting edge research and information in this blog.  We hope to help make sense of what we are learning in a way that is meaningful to you.  So here goes a synthesis of some new health research.

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail it was cited that researchers found that the quality of our social connections can have a major impact on our health.  According to the article “people who experience long periods of loneliness have been found to develop serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, dementia and decreased mobility, at much higher rates than people who don’t feel isolated”. Social isolation can actually change the way our brains function.  Loneliness is the new smoking.

So next time you are out for a walk or you are waiting for a bus, stop and say hello – you never know, you could be saving a life.

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