The growth of areas such as Gasoline Alley and Springbrook will mean future challenges for Red Deer County. File photo by JEFF STOKOE/Advocate staff

Red Deer County plans for future

Future planning must take into account changing demographics and population growth

An age-friendly community strategy should be developed to meet the challenges of changing demographics, suggests a Red Deer County Community Needs Assessment.

The county’s seniors population has increased 21 per cent in the last five years and that trend is expected to continue.

“A lot of seniors expect to stay in their homes as long as they possibly can,” John Hardenburg, of Har Group Management Consultants, told county council recently.

Many of those seniors will need public transportation and other services aimed at older residents.

Hardenburg said a survey done for the community needs assessment showed there was concern among some seniors about the “age-friendliness” of their community.

As well, there are concerns about who will take over the family farm since many grown children have left rural areas for urban centres.

It was recommended the county adopt an Age-Friendly Community Strategy to look at seniors access to housing, recreation, jobs, health services and social activities.

Coun. Philip Massier asked if the strategy would focus only on seniors.

Hardenburg said age-friendly strategies don’t look at just one demographic but at the “community as a whole.”

After remaining unchanged for two decades, the county’s population has recently increased by seven per cent, driven by the growth of areas such as Springbrook and Gasoline Alley.

That population growth will boost demand for local recreation opportunities and the kinds of services young families rely upon.

It is recommended the county update its Community Services Strategic Plan to ensure it meets the county’s changing needs.

The county should also increase the services it provides as well as expanding grant programs to support community facilities and amenities. Developing more community partnerships and updating the Recreation Facilities Master Plan are other recommendations.

Mayor Jim Wood said the community needs assessment provides the kind of information that is difficult to get talking to residents individually.

“I see this as a stepping point for our county so that we are, in fact, doing what we need to do for our citizens.”

Coun. Christine Moore said the assessment “really is an up-to-date snapshot of where our community is and (where it) is heading.”

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