Walking towards a healthy community

People living in communities with easy access to transit, bike paths, and walkways may be healthier than those who don’t, but the data that establishes that does not exist.

That is why researchers at UBC want to measure health outcomes across a variety of urban communities to determine those factors that contribute to better health than others, and they are asking local municipalities to help fund the two-year project that they hope will help city planners decide the best way to balance urban growth with community development. Their request was presented to the Metro Vancouver Regional Planning Board last Friday.

Pedestrian directions to densifications

According to Statistics Canada, more people are moving into B.C. than leaving it. In the third quarter of 2016 alone, more than 18,000 new people made B.C. their home, and this has been fairly constant for several quarters.

Heather McNell, division manager at Metro Vancouver said that the project will focus on how easy it is to walk in a person’s neighbourhood. Yet, both Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health have issued reports recommending that the effects of other environmental conditions like sound on physical and mental health be included in the future data studies of urban health and planning.

Noise and tranquility in growing cities

New Westminster Mayor, Jonathan Cote believes that the data that comes out of the study will help show how communities can become more complete without impacting health and community well-being is essential. His interest in measures of health extends beyond being able to walk or bike to everyday places, however.

The challenge for city planners, according to Jonathan Cote, Mayor of New Westminster, is to find ways to prepare for growth without creating tension in current residential neighbourhoods. Sound is a big one in New West, where trains sound whistles at open crossings.

“The sound carries across the whole city,” he said. It can be very disruptive.

Data open doors to smarter choices

Cote leads New Westminster’s push to impose measures on the freight trains that run through the city at night to stop them from sounding their whistles.

Cote is also the vice-chair of the Metro Vancouver Regional Planning Committee that debated the merits of the UBC study before decided to recommend funding the project. Underneath the debate was the sense that city and metro planners are looking for the best way to bridge densification with changes in urban design.

“Densification and heritage preservation are polarizing issues,” Cote said, and there are no easy solutions.


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