The Launch of Vancouver’s Healthy City Strategy

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the City of Vancouver’s Healthy People, Healthy City conference. The conference marked the launch of the Healthy City Strategy, which complements the City’s other two strategies – the Greenest City Action Plan, and the Vancouver Economic Action Strategy. Together, these three strategies attempt to address the social, ecological and economic needs of Vancouver. The Healthy City Strategy is comprised of three components – healthy people: taking care of the basics; healthy communities: promoting inclusion, belonging and connectedness; and healthy environments: ensuring livability now and into the future. Within each of these components, a number of ‘building blocks’ needed to achieve a healthy city are identified.

A highlight of the conference was the keynote address by The Globe and Mail public health reporter André Picard. Reflecting on what it takes to create a healthy city, Mr. Picard spoke of the importance of addressing the social determinants of health (for example, income and housing), as well as creating healthier environments through the creation of healthy public spaces, as a foundation of a healthy city. The focus on the social and environmental determinants of health speak to a good wealth of research suggesting that medical care accounts for only about 10% of one’s health. Some of Mr. Picard’s suggestions for creating a healthy city included investing in good public transit, public spaces, greenery, and local farming; developing public institutions in the downtown core; creating mixed-used neighbourhoods and roads; and de-uglifying the city by taking cars out of the equation as much as possible – a key facet in all of these suggestions is the ability to bring people together.

Throughout the morning, a total of 9 lighting-stroke quick presentations (no exaggeration – each presentation was three minutes long) described some of the ways in which the City  was already working towards some of the building blocks identified in the strategy. For example, Bill Briscall spoke of the ways RainCity Housing was creating opportunities for healthier housing, and Miguel Testa and Steven Dang spoke about CitizenU, an innovative initiative that engages young people as leaders in addressing racism, discrimination, and bullying. The afternoon panel echoed some of the key points made by Mr. Picard in the keynote address, with a focus on decreasing health inequities in our more vulnerable populations and creating healthier public spaces and opportunities for increased social connections (something addressed in length in this recently released Vancouver Foundation report).

The strategy put forward by the City of Vancouver is ambitious, and serves as a comprehensive conceptual framework for the City. Mr. Picard offered some good advice moving forward: be bold with the strategy, but remember to have goals and timetable, as well as to prioritize (“if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority”). I look forward to seeing how the plan is put into action, and how it (in the words of Mayor Gregor) will accelerate and deliver.

Photo courtesy of JamesZ_Flickr