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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Healthy Built Environment Part 2: Green spaces, climate change, social inclusion and social support

The green movement and healthy communities have their roots urban planning, and we should be indebted to the work of Dr. Trevor Hancock back in the 70s and 80’s in founding the healthy community movement.  It was an initial step on the healthy built environment.  Urban planners ran with the concept of making parks, green spaces, planting trees and revitalizing urban areas.   Some of the solutions have caused problems, but no doubt prevented many more. 

Now we are challenged with how to build our communities to be sustainable. 

Climate change is upon us and the impacts will be felt by our children and grandchildren.  While perhaps not all impacts are reversible, the least we can do is develop communities that can adapt to the change and minimizes their contribution to worsening of greenhouse gas emissions.   Kudos to those provinces that require government agencies to be carbon neutral – it is perhaps not sufficient, but it is a significant step in the right direction. 

Social isolation can be partially overcome by designed mechanisms to increase neighbourly contact.  Porches on the street side and not the backyard.  Pooling personal yard space into small parks on each block.  Community gardens, community centres, even community kitchens can lead to social connectedness and building social support networks.

Planning for inclusion of children, seniors, those with physical, mental and development disabilities, those with reintegration into society,  leads to very different neighbourhood plans than would typically occur for two parent single family housing.   The challenge is to make such planning integral to urban design.  Eliminate the not in my backyard (NIMBY) mentality and build from the value and strengths of all communities members.

How we plan for and build our communities can have not only a personal health benefit, but a benefit for the health of all community members.  Planning must be founded in the needs of all residents, not just those that stand to profit.  

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