It's so much easier working in the present. You know what you're dealing with. No guesswork involved. But the future. That's way off in the distance.

Who knows what conditions and circumstances will exist in 20 or 50 years' time.
But in many areas we do know and it's not guesswork.

Research, based on current trends and data is telling us the future now and what we can expect. Climate change is a given, that much we do know.

Technology will erase thousands of jobs, change the workplace and existing businesses.

Advertisement

Even the removal of borders separating countries in Europe is being predicted. That prediction must have come from outside of Europe.

I can't think of one sovereign nation in Europe that would willingly throw open its borders.

But that's just it, we don't know what the future holds so we had better keep a good eye on it, locally too.

This was very evident last week at the National Age-Friendly Communities Forum held in Wellington.

The forum was all about the future. Looking at what was happening overseas, what our own data here in New Zealand was telling us and what we as local communities need to prepare and plan for to create age-friendly communities.

It was refreshing to see those with age on their side talking about what an age-friendly city would look like to them.

They know, from their own experiences and perspectives, what is working well and the positive characteristics of an age-friendly city.

They highlighted barriers. I always find service user and consumer forums very enlightening. In most cases where change is needed, to be effective, these groups must be involved as full partners.

They should play a role in suggesting and recommending changes and in implementing and monitoring improvements.

How prepared is New Zealand for the global trend of an ageing population?

From what I heard at the forum we are talking about it a lot but it needs focused action and commitment from both central and local government.

The Minister for Seniors, Tracey Martin, gave an assurance the ministry would work alongside local councils to raise awareness and provide information to adapt structures and services to be accessible to, and inclusive of, older people with varying needs and capacities.

She reminded us that just like the rest of the population, older people are not a homogeneous group. They have varying and different needs too.

By 2030 about three out of every five people in the world will live in cities. When I heard this I did wonder who will be left on the land, farming and producing the food for this mass of humanity.

Maybe we'll all be swallowing coloured pills by then, one for breakfast, one for lunch and one dinner. That'll gain us an extra hour or two a day. To do what? Sit down, ponder and plan.

The World Health Organisation has developed a checklist of essential features of age-friendly cities.

These include: Outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, community and health services.

What was clear from the forum is that local councils can't do it all with many saying there were often difficulties getting started.

Ageist attitudes are still with us and need to be challenged. These are behaviours and the messages of other people and of the community as a whole towards older people.
These have a strong influence on social participation. Making older people feel wanted and prepared to engage in recreational, social, cultural, educational and spiritual activities.

Active ageing in supportive, enabling communities is one of the most effective approaches to maintaining quality of life in an increasingly older and more urban world.

"Not about us without us" was my take-home message from the forum. Delivered clearly by those who want to translate the available research into local actions. They put their stake in the ground.

* Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua District councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness.