On Tuesday morning I attended the launch of Greater Victoria’s Vital Signs report – an annual check up on the health and well-being of the region. Overall quality of life in the region received a mark of B+.
That’s pretty good. But what’s worrying is that 25 per cent of people surveyed felt discriminated against at some point, felt like they didn’t belong. This needs our collective attention as the city grows and changes.
Victoria’s demographics are changing, as well as the city’s built form. The results of the latest census are starting to come out. As well as our population growing by nearly 6,000 people from 2011 to 2016, our age mix is changing, too. According to the latest round of data released, we’re seeing that the numbers of children, youth and seniors in the city are increasing. And youth and seniors are two groups who have, according to Vital Signs, “historically struggled harder to feel included.”
It’s very important based on Vital Signs and the census data for the City to take the initiative to make sure there are services that serve the needs of all “ages and stages,” from childhood, to students and young adults, new families and working people, through to pre-retirement and retirement. We need to build a city that is inclusive and welcoming for people of all ages, where everyone feels like there’s something for them and that this is their community, too.
Our public library is hugely popular and expanding. Soon we’ll be opening a new branch in James Bay, which has the highest concentration of seniors in the city. The library’s a great example of a community service that creates connection and belonging from Books for Babies through the Teen Zone, to home delivery of books for shut-ins, plus equipment adapted for people with special needs.
While the present Crystal Pool has many programs to serve all ages, it doesn’t serve everyone’s needs. The proposed new pool is deliberately being designed to cater to all ages and abilities. This means that seniors and others with mobility challenges will be able to access the pool and take part in social, recreational and health and wellness activities.
Have you noticed the new kids’ playgrounds and their colourful new equipment? With more families with children, we’ve been proactive in adding upgrades and new facilities at existing parks and playgrounds. And the numbers using them have exceeded all our expectations. The new “Playbox” in Central Park lets parents and kids access toys and equipment to add to their recreation experience.
And of course, there are many city programs that benefit people of all ages. For example, the tree replacement program keeps us all close to nature and provides the green canopy to help reduce our carbon footprint.
The “My Great Neighbourhood” grants support projects and activities that people want to do to animate their community spaces and bring people together.
Yet to create a truly inclusive city where people of all ages feel like they belong is not only the responsibility of City Hall. It takes each of us, reaching out, looking for opportunities to connect, and coming together to organize activities that help foster a sense of connection and belonging, for everyone.
Lisa Helps is mayor of Victoria.