Two major categories emerged on older people's walking experiences when compared across SES axes: traffic hazards and public transit. These issues were experienced differently depending on urban form but generally older people living in lower SES neighbourhoods described greater difficulties with traffic hazards and a greater reliance on public transit. Comparison of key informant descriptions of the socio-political process highlighted four main differences when compared across SES axes. These differences indicated that key informants living in lower SES neighbourhoods described greater challenges in creating walkable places. The following subsections elaborate on these SES differences.
Pedestrian-vehicle collisions, vehicular traffic volumes through selected intersections, and designated trucking route distances were higher in lower than higher SES neighbourhoods. Older people in both lower SES neighbourhoods reported having to cross hazardous neighbourhood borders such as main traffic roadways more often to reach desired destinations such as federally maintained parkland and shopping destinations. They also reported more walking hazards associated with heavy vehicles than their higher SES counterparts:
"How they manage to stop when those lights turn to amber, some of those trucks. I get the impression that this city is trying to keep the flow of traffic. The concentration is on the traffic rather than on the pedestrian. That is the feeling that I have."
(Female, phase one interview, lower SES inner-urban neighbourhood)
Older people in the higher SES suburban neighbourhood were more likely to drive to shopping destinations, while those in the higher SES inner-urban neighbourhood reported being able to regularly shop within the neighbourhood and that crossing the main traffic artery within the neighbourhood was not a problem because of frequent regulated pedestrian crosswalks.
Particularly problematic to the lower SES suburban neighbourhood, were long distances between regulated pedestrian crossings on one of the main traffic arteries running through the neighbourhood. High traffic volumes coupled with long block lengths meant that crossing a main arterial in this neighbourhood was difficult. Compounded by a lack of benches, this situation proved especially challenging to older people with mobility problems who lived in the lower SES suburban neighbourhood.
Four differences emerged from comparison of key informants' descriptions of the sociopolitical processes associated with walking issues identified by older people: 1) neighbourhood association size; 2) residence of political representatives; 3) accessing information; 4) salient neighbourhood association issues. Each difference is further described in this subsection.
Higher SES neighbourhoods had larger neighbourhood association memberships than their lower SES counterparts. This characteristic appeared to be associated with creating more complex and stable neighbourhood associations in which voluntary work was shared among a greater number of people. In the lower SES neighbourhoods, activities around walkability were addressed by groups with smaller membership numbers:
"It is great having this cultural mix, but it is not only a cultural mix but it is an economic mix and socially mixed, and that is why it is a great neighbourhood. It just does not have the same dynamic as where there is a huge ownership contingent. It puts more burden on a few people but it takes, as Margaret Meade said, it only takes a few people to change the world."
(Male, phase two interview, lower SES inner-urban neighbourhood)
Key informants indicated that political representatives for higher SES neighbourhoods lived in those neighbourhoods while political representatives for lower SES neighbourhoods lived elsewhere. Although this did not necessarily mean political representatives misunderstood lower SES neighbourhood issues, it did mean that their own day-to-day walking experiences were often outside the neighbourhoods they were representing, and that there was a greater onus on residents of lower SES neighbourhoods to make them aware of walking issues:
"Then there are other things where I really do not know a lot about it, because I do not live in that area or I am not a senior, so I am not experiencing that current challenge right now.... If I do not know that there is a demand, I am not going to know to ask for it."
(Female, municipal councillor, phase two interview, lower SES suburban neighbourhood)
Residents of higher SES neighbourhoods had the benefit of being represented by councillors whose residency in the neighbourhood gave them a greater appreciation of the issues:
"We have had a very good [councillor] because she is also a resident. She has been a resident for probably close to forty years...you need somebody who knows what your problems are."
(Female, phase two interview, higher SES suburban neighbourhood)
Key informants in higher SES neighbourhoods indicated that groups had been able to generate a strong voice through community associations resulting in improvements to walking conditions in their neighbourhoods. Key informants in lower SES neighbourhood also described having achieved improvements to walkability including pedestrian crossings, and traffic calming measures. However, in the lower SES neighbourhoods, there were more reports of difficulty obtaining information such as building standards or municipal procedures from the City of Ottawa:
"It is very hard to find code. I have been told by various city engineers that say, code is two inches for curb cuts, or that there is no regulation as to the width of the curb cut... They won't give you the information. You have to go research it and find it, nobody will give it to you so that you know whether it meets or it does not meet [the code]."
(Female, phase two interview, lower SES suburban neighbourhood)
The difficulty of accessing information did not emerge in conversations with key informants from higher SES neighbourhoods. Although, both groups of key informants described a process of ongoing vigilance, key informants in lower SES neighbourhoods described meeting more resistance as they attempted to navigate municipal level processes. This was the case for neighbourhood group representatives as well as for single residents who acted individually. Although, higher SES neighbourhoods also met with resistance, past successes and the political capacity of their community associations were viewed as factors that seemed to have lowered this resistance at city hall. One resident suggested that city hall may be more receptive to inquiries from the representatives of neighbourhoods with a history of successful community mobilization.
"You do not want to upset five thousand potential voters...I am sure the key committee people, work ten to fifteen hours a week, volunteer, on community business, but it keeps the edge going, it keeps drawing things to people's attention. It is a sad comment that the squeaky hinge gets the oil. We squeak."
(Male, phase two interview, higher SES inner-urban neighbourhood)
Higher and lower SES neighbourhoods differed with respect to salient neighbourhood association issues discussed by neighbourhood stakeholder key informants. Key informants in higher SES neighbourhoods gave examples of how neighbourhood association efforts had aimed to improve neighbourhood aesthetics more frequently than in lower SES neighbourhoods. For example, the higher SES inner-urban neighbourhood had organized a series of concerts and raised a considerable amount of money in order to bury hydro-electric wires to improve aesthetics. The higher SES suburban neighbourhood had a heritage committee that was addressing the issue of preserving the original lighting posts in the neighbourhood rather than having a new standard imposed by the city. The light posts along with natural features and winding pathways were felt to contribute to its distinct character, which was part of a comprehensive design plan implemented by the neighbourhood's developer. In the lower SES neighbourhoods there was little mention of aesthetics, but more concern around safety issues (i.e. crime prevention and traffic hazards). In the lower SES suburban neighbourhood, crime prevention activities occurred separately in different parts of the neighbourhood. One key informant from a public housing complex in this neighbourhood described his unsuccessful attempt at organizing a neighbourhood watch initiative. Some of the barriers he faced were raising the funds necessary for advertising the initiative, mobilizing support within his housing community and hearing back from the police in a timely fashion. In contrast, one of the older people in the higher SES inner-urban neighbourhood noted that concerns about crime consumed very few community resources:
"Well that is the only incident [of crime] that I know of... I am a member of the Glebe Community Association. I go to all their meetings once a month and I have been active on the board and it has never been raised in the past five years that I have been going to any meetings."
(Male, phase two interview, higher SES inner-urban neighbourhood).