A new report calls on Canadian municipalities to make suburbs more “age-friendly” so that seniors who can no longer drive don’t end up isolated.

The report released by the Institute for Research on Public Policy says a rapidly aging population means that cities and towns “must refocus community planning efforts to deal with the impact of decades-old, car-dependent suburban sprawl.”

The author of the report, Glenn Miller, told CTV News Channel that many of the suburbs built in Canada since the Second World War are “just too age-unfriendly.”

“They’re car dependent and if you lose your ability to drive, then you’re stuck,” Miller, a senior associate at the Canadian Urban Institute, said on Wednesday.

“It is fair to say that our current suburbs are no place to grow old,” he noted in the report.

Miller said the concept of age-friendly communities was introduced by the World Health Organization a decade ago. The WHO said outdoor spaces and building, as well as transportation and housing planning, should consider the physical limitations of older people and their need to stay connected to their communities.

Miller said age-friendly communities should be walkable, with plenty of sidewalks and places where seniors can rest on their way to the store or a medical appointment. If a community cannot be entirely walkable, the municipality should ensure there’s accessible public transit that makes it easy for seniors to be mobile. 

The report notes that, according to a 2016 survey of Ontario’s 27 largest municipalities, building age-friendly communities is “still very much a work in progress.”

The work being done to consider the needs of an aging population “is still removed from the formal planning and development processes that determine the physical form of urban and suburban neighbourhoods,” the report says.

“We want to be able to have an older population that is engaged and enjoying a good quality of life,” Miller told CTV News Channel. “If you don’t have the physical means to be able to do that, that can be a problem.”

His report notes that seniors now represent 16 per cent of Canada’s population, and there are more seniors than school-age children. Population estimates suggest that, by 2041, one in four Canadians will live to the Old Age Security age of 65.