Age-friendly on the agenda in Hamilton

A one-page plan is spearheading a proposal to create an age-friendly community in Hamilton.

Waikato river, photo: Janine Faulknor

The strategy, approved by the council, has as its outcome a city that “will be a desirable place to live for older people”.

“We’re looking for better lighting, better transport options, and we’re not just talking about buses, we’re talking about access to footpaths, walkways, etc.

“For example, we have paths along the Waikato River – they’re flat, generally speaking, but to get to those flat walkways along the river, sometimes there are steps and sometimes there are no ramps for bicycles or mobility scooters.”

That's Peggy Koopman-Boyden, CNZM, and chair of the city's Older Persons Advisory Panel, which developed the plan over 12 months after public consultation.

Access, safety and inclusion

There were three goals identified – access, safety and inclusion.

“One of the ways of making Hamilton a desirable place to live is by making it safe and secure for older people,” says Professor Koopman-Boyden.

“There are two things we have to think about – actually making it safe and secure and making sure that older people know that it’s safe and secure.

The social gerontologist at the University of Waikato undertook an experiment to see what it was like on the streets of Hamilton at night.

Peggy Koopman-boyden - Side profile

“We have volunteers in Hamilton with yellow jackets on; they are the city safety crew and they have a special Maori group. They wander the streets keeping people from doing silly things.

“I checked them out – I deliberately went into town one night by myself and had a cup of coffee at 11:30 on the street outside a café.

“One of those people came up to me and said, ‘Are you ok?’ I said yes, thank you for asking, I am ok.’”

There’s also the need to relay information in an effective way.

“We’re talking about communication with older people and from older people,” says Professor Koopman-Boyden.

“We’re writing a communications plan and one of the things we’re doing in that is making sure there is a good plan for emergencies.

“A lot of older people use the radio to get information as opposed to an i-phone or an app so we’re going to have to think about that.”

“They (the council) are also looking at upping the civil defense emergency resources for older people and that’s still being explored; programs aimed at ensuring readiness for civil defense emergencies.”

There’s also the way written information is presented.

“We’re looking at guidelines for council information – for example, font size on the web, colour, the contrast, how about the people who are colour blind?

“[Then there’s] appropriate signage, including to show where the yellow carparks are for disability so that they can safely get there in the first place.

Active participation

The third goal, inclusion, is also regarded as a key area of the plan so that older people can actively participate in the community.

“We’re gathering the heritage, life histories of many older people in Hamilton,” says Professor Koopman-Boyden.

“Hamilton’s not a very old city compared to Christchurch or Wellington. A lot of older people know about the older buildings and can tell the stories about them – that’s quite fun.”

A volunteer, who was a recently arrived migrant, went to a rest home to chat to the residents.

“He was blown away by how much he could contribute in talking to the older people and listening to their stories,” she says.

There’s still some way to go before there’s broad community awareness about what it means to be an age-friendly city.

“I have said to older people that they must gain respect rather than expect it,” says the social gerontologist.

“For example, we continue to have some people who will give up a seat for an older person, and that’s good, and to be encouraged.

“But, you often see older persons, particularly men in business suits who are older men but they refuse to take the seat and in fact they’re often quite grumpy and say ‘I don’t need it, I can quite easily stand up’, and they’re shaking. So what happens is that the younger person doesn’t ask, doesn’t give up the seat for the next older person.

“Older people have to respect the goodwill of the younger person so it’s two ways; if we educate the younger people to look after the older people, the older people have to respect that, and thank them for it. It’s an interesting two way affair.”

You can read Hamilton's Older Persons Plan here:

Related information

A number of groups around New Zealand are looking at how their community can become age-friendly.

It's also an international movement spearheaded by the World Health Organisation.