Making Healthy Neighborhoods Happen

A healthy neighborhood is one in which most trips – to school, shops, services, work, recreation, and public transit can be made by foot or bike within 10 minutes. At the 55th IMCL Conference we shall review some of the most innovative efforts to create healthy 10-minute neighborhoods.

The goal of the HealthyHoods research initiative is to create the ‘living neighbourhood’ – places that are healthy, socially equitable, efficient, resilient and environmentally responsive. Directed by Beverly Sandalack, Professor of Environmental Design and Associate Dean at the University of Calgary, HealthyHoods involves interdisciplinary researchers to better understand how the city’s physical design affects peoples’ quality and way of life, and to propose recommendations for better planning and design. Professor Sandalack will discuss how the initiative’s use of new tools (such as smart phones, gps, and drone technology) allows their research “to include two of the more vulnerable populations – children and the elderly – with a focus on building resilience in neighbourhoods.”

Peel Public Health has collaborated with Regional and area municipal planning departments to develop and implement the “Healthy Development Assessment (HDA), an evidence-informed tool that assesses the health-promoting potential of applicable development applications.” Certain development projects are required to complete this health assessment. Andrea Dear, Health Planning Facilitator, and Althaf Farouque, Development Facilitator for the Region of Peel will present case studies and examples to demonstrate the potential of such tools, lessons learned and next steps.

The Region of Peel and the City of Mississauga are collaborating to guide the long-term development of six indoor shopping malls and their immediate environment, toward becoming healthier and more complete communities, using intensification, a mix of uses, integration with transit, and active transportation.

“As part of the community engagement program, the Region led walking audits to assess the walkability of their community and understand how the built form can impact their daily activities (e.g. commuting to work, running errands)”. Jordan Lee, Planner for the City of Mississauga, and Sebastian van Gilst, Health Promoter for the Region of Peel will highlight how the walking audit was developed and can provide valuable input regarding walkability. “By assessing the opportunities and challenges of the built environment of existing neighborhoods, planning policy can be used to set the framework for the future of healthy, complete communities”.

To transform established, unhealthy neighborhoods into healthy 10-minute neighborhoods we must first correctly identify the needed components and then craft tools to address those deficits. Planner Elora Wilkinson will use the drafting of two landmark plans for Halifax Regional Municipality as a lens for identifying the right tools for strengthening and creating 10-minute neighborhoods. “The first plan was tasked with bringing residential uses back into the Central Business District, and the second plan was tasked with integrating a variety of uses into established residential areas”. Wilkinson intends this presentation to enable other municipalities to successfully retrofit their existing urban form by embracing 10-minute neighborhood principles. 

The Jackson, Tennessee Community Redevelopment Agency partnered with Healthy Communities LLC to create a public-private partnership using health and wellness as a catalyst for revitalizing an existing neighborhood that re-anchors it to the adjacent downtown and farmers market. Christopher Janson will discuss the master plan prepared by his firm, Looney Ricks Kiss. “The plan addresses the built form and environmental conditions that cause environment- and lifestyle-based ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The plan identified locations for strategic infill and rehabilitation of single-family homes, multifamily units, social gathering places and neighborhood-serving retail buildings”. A central element of the plan is the new Wellness Center, a comprehensive healthy lifestyle center that includes a medical clinic, outpatient rehab and therapy center, fitness facilities, café, and demonstration kitchen.

Based on the health differences between advantaged, as compared to disadvantaged neighborhoods, Hamilton, Ontario created the Neighborhood Action Strategy to invest in 11 "forgotten" neighborhoods and build capacity in the residents to make positive change within their own community. Al Fletcher, Manager, Neighborhood Action Strategy will speak to the positive outcomes and projects as well as the challenges facing Hamilton’s quickly changing neighborhoods.

“When cities grow and become denser, social relationships can be difficult to maintain or may not exist at all”, says Darren Kropf, Neighbourhood Development Office, Kitchener, Ontario. A breakdown in social networks can presage a breakdown in public health. Kitchener is growing, but it is investing just as much on strengthening social connections as on the built environment.

“Love My Hood – Kitchener’s first neighbourhood strategy – embraces a simple yet powerful vision: residents take the lead in shaping their neighbourhood, and the city supports them along the way… Investments in new tools, resources and grants create more ways for residents to be engaged in their neighbourhood on their terms”. Projects selected by neighborhoods may include “popular projects like community gardens, street parties, crosswalk murals or public seating, but can also include creative placemaking initiatives like mosaic art walls in the park or outdoor ping pong tables… As residents work together with their neighbours to get things done, they strengthen community connections and foster a greater sense of belonging for the residents that live there.”