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IN OUR VIEW: Metro Vancouver’s grey wave is here

We’re getting more and more seniors, and relatively few kids
We’ll need fewer children’s playgrounds, more seniors centres in the coming years. (Township of Langley/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

One statistic stands out above all others in the recently released Metro Vancouver Housing Data Book.

The report looks at everything from the construction of new rental housing (rising, but not fast enough) to the number of single-person households (also up sharply as more people old and young are living alone) to the total of households that are most severely squeezed by housing costs (again, it’s way up, and that’s a very bad thing).

But one thing that isn’t going up much?

The number of young kids in Metro Vancouver.

The growth in children aged newborn to 14 in Metro Vancouver during the five years between the 2016 and 2021 Canadian Censuses was 2.7 per cent.

The number of seniors 65 and older, on the other hand, rose by a whopping 19 per cent over the same five-year period.

We’re living longer, we’re having smaller families. And that means we need to rapidly rethink how we allocate municipal resources across the region.

While we’re going to need new schools and skate parks and daycares, we’re going to need far more places for retirees – from seniors centres to pickleball courts, walking tracks to elder care facilities.

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One complication is that this grey wave is sort of moving west to east through the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

The fact that cheaper homes (relatively speaking) have been in the outer suburbs for decades means that Vancouver, for example, is greyer and has fewer kids. Meanwhile, areas like Langley, Abbotsford, and Maple Ridge are relatively young compared to their neighbours. So there’s no one-size-fits-all development plan that can be applied region-wide.

Seniors are far from a monolith.

Some continue working, even into their 70s or beyond. Most are independent and will be busy travelling and volunteering for years.

Others among our oldest citizens will need more supports and health care.

The changes aren’t evenly distributed, of course. Some cities have empty schools, other are bursting at the seams. Some communities have many financially secure seniors, others have many who are living on small, fixed incomes, and are highly vulnerable to an increase in housing costs.

But nothing is going to turn back this tide. The Baby Boomers are retiring en masse, soon, to be followed by the oldest members of Generation X.

For the next 30 to 40 years, our built environment will have to reflect the reality that seniors will be our largest demographic group.

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