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Seniors run for the suburbs in their golden years

The 65-plus set is moving away from city centres, a Concordia study shows
October 14, 2014
By Cléa Desjardins

Zachary Patterson’s research shows individuals over the age of 65 are moving to the suburbs.
Zachary Patterson’s research shows individuals over the age of 65 are moving to the suburbs.

By 2040, there will be more than three times the number of Americans aged 80-plus than there were in 2000. Condo towers crowding city skylines seem to reflect builders’ hopes that the grey set will head to urban centres for increased services and better transit options. But new research from Concordia suggests that the opposite will most likely occur.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Transport Geography, Concordia researcher Zachary Patterson uses census data to map seniors’ moving habits. What emerges is a clear pattern: Individuals over the age of 65 have been increasingly moving to the suburbs.

Patterson, a professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, finds this to be an unfortunate trend. “Seniors in highly automobile-dependent suburbs who lose their licenses can suffer a decreased quality of life as a result. At least if they live in central neighbourhoods with good access to medical services and public transit infrastructure, they will not suffer so much from the loss of automobility.”

The proof is in the population

The findings are based on micro census data pulled from Canada's six largest metropolitan areas: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Altogether, that represents 45 per cent of the country's population.

Zachary Patterson

Patterson and his co-authors focused on data from the long-form censuses done in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006. The 2011 census was not used since it isn’t clearly comparable due its replacement by the voluntary National Household Survey.

Regardless, an important trend can be seen emerging from those years: Seniors are more likely to move to the suburbs than to the urban core. In fact, in all cities, the rate at which this age group is moving to the suburbs appears to be increasing faster than for any other.

“People are interested in seeing more seniors move back to the city because that’s where the infrastructure is already in place for a better quality of life for individuals with limited mobility options,” says Patterson, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in Transportation and Land-Use Linkages for Regional Sustainability. “But when you look at actual data rather than anecdotal evidence, it’s clear that they prefer the suburbs.

“This issue is important for planning future transportation systems, as well as for its implications on the future welfare of the large baby-boom generation now starting to enter retirement.”

Partners in research: This research was enabled by funding from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canada Research Chairs program, and Montreal’s Agence métropolitaine de transport.

Read the cited study: "Use of the Urban Core Index to analyze residential mobility: the case of seniors in Canadian metropolitan regions," Journal of Transport Geography, Vol. 41.


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