Planning for “Heart” Healthy Communities this February

Do you walk to the store or drive? How many times in the last week have you taken your kids to the park? Would you bike to work or does the thought of combating traffic leave you cold? All of this is impacted by decisions at the municipal and community level. When it comes to our health, planning and design can be the deciding factors in our healthy, or not so healthy, choices!

To those of us working on healthy public policy, these decisions are summed up in one somewhat ‘nerdy’ term – the built environment. And interest in this area of our health decisions is growing rapidly. There is both a quality and quantity of evidence available to support what we intuitively knew, now what can we do about it? For those of you who really want to delve deeper, check out the new inventory at the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health site.

The recent Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada Conference in Ottawa is a prime example of this interest. Profiled speakers emphasized how stakeholders across governments and sectors can help to create healthier communities. One of the initiatives discussed by several speakers was Healthy Canada by Design, which examines and improves neighbourhood design and community planning as viewed through the lenses of health and chronic disease prevention with partnerships in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

Municipalities, with increasing support from public and private stakeholders, are looking at how to retrofit communities that were planned with cars rather than with healthy pedestrians in mind. Great partnerships are sprouting up between health and municipal staff to improve the health and liveability of communities. For instance, supported by the Healthy Canada by Design CLASP, the District of North Vancouver has just finished its Official Community Planning process, with added insights provided by its close working relationship with Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

An added success to this working relationship is the inclusion of the charitable sector. The Heart and Stroke Foundation is a key participant in Healthy Canada by Design. They have broadened the North Vancouver collaboration by bringing their volunteers and supporters out for ‘walkability’ tours of the neighbourhoods, helping to broaden public understanding of the issues.

BCAHL wants to commend this great partnership approach to health, and bring it forward, especially as February is Heart Month. We applaud the Foundation’s determination “to transform Canada into one of the healthiest countries in the world — inspired by [their] vision of eliminating heart disease and stroke in this country.”

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Policy Development and Knowledge Translation

February 2012

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