An Urban Revolution Through Age Friendly Cities? The Case Of Toronto
This dissertation examines the claim that Age Friendly Cities (AFCs) represents an effective and revolutionary policy approach to population aging. The AFC approach is a placebased policy program intended to enhance the ‘fit’ between senior citizens and their environment. Mainstream accounts of AFCs claim that the program represents a paradigmatic
shift in the way we think about aging, to move away from an individual health deficit approach to one that seeks to improve local environments by empowering seniors and local policy actors. However, initial critical literature notes that while AFCs may offer the potential to expand social and physical infrastructure investments to accommodate diverse population needs, they are being popularized in a conjuncture where the public sector is being restructured through narrow projects of neoliberalism that call for limiting public redistribution. This literature calls for further empirical studies to better understand the gap between AFC claims and practice.
I heed this call through a qualitative case study of AFCs in the City of Toronto; a particularly relevant case because the recent Toronto Seniors Strategy has been critiqued for being more symbolic than substantive. My research represents a critical policy study as I understand AFCs not as a technical policy tool but as a political object attractive to conflicting progressive and neoliberal projects that use rhetorical and practical strategies to ensure their actualization. My approach is normative as I seek to provide insight for a transformative ‘right to the city’ for senior citizens through the AFC approach. I use literature on citizenship to understand the multiplicity of political projects that seek to expand or narrow the relations between people, environments and institutions through the AFC program. This understanding is based on the meanings 82 different policy actors from local government, the non-profit sector, academia, and other levels of government make of their everyday work in creating age-friendly environments. The broad question I ask is: How do local policy actors understand the rhetoric and practice of AFCs in Toronto and how do these understandings illustrate particular expansive and narrow political projects that affect the development of a right to the city for senior citizens through this policy program?
I begin with an initial Case Chapter that scopes age friendly policy work in Toronto from a ‘seeing like a city’ perspective that identifies the complex multi-scalar and multi-actor nature of this policy domain. The Recognizing Seniors and Role of Place Chapters then examine AFCs rhetorically with respect to how local policy actors understand the ‘person’ and the ‘environment’. The Rescaling Redistribution and Restructuring Governance Chapters explore the practice of AFCs, including how local policy actors understand their capacities to design and deliver age-friendly services and amenities and the institutional mechanisms at their disposal to action AFCs. My findings challenge the claim that the AFC policy approach is effective, let alone revolutionary. I learn from policy actors that narrow projects of restructuring work to assemble seemingly progressive rhetoric and practice around active aging and localism to reduce universal public provision, expand the role of private citizens and their families to provide care, and use local policy actors as residual providers of last resort. My research documents how more expansive understandings of senior citizens as rights bearers and the role of the public and non-profit sector to recognize and redistribute on this basis are also in operation. Understanding these political projects more deeply through the AFC policy program helps me to offer policy insight as to what is needed both rhetorically and practically to craft a more effective and revolutionary alternative AFC model based on a right to the city for senior citizens.