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‘Crucial’ point

We can make smart policy for a healthy city, says Canada Research Chair

Campus and Community

By Dr. Daniel Fuller

Like it or not, cities are constantly changing.

The urban fabric of St. John’s and the communities on the Avalon Peninsula have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Our communities will continue to change.

Dr. Daniel Fuller is hosting a public lecture, Designing Healthy Cities Using Data and Policy, on Thursday, May 10.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Long-term health

What that change will look like will depend on policy and new technologies. The policies and technologies that communities on the Avalon Peninsula implement today can improve population health in the long term.

We are at a crucial time for change, but change can be hard.

There is federal funding for transit infrastructure, in March of last year, the provincial government’s The Way Forward: A Multi-Year Plan for Infrastructure Investments was published with no clear plan for public transit, the OurAvalon Background report was recently published, and the City of St. John’s Strategic Plan is up for renewal soon. We have a new council who are keen to make their mark on the city.

There is also interest and funding for smart cities.

“Smart and healthy cities are what is required, not only for health, but also to be eligible for federal funding.”

Google is taking on urban planning with Sidewalk Labs. St. John’s recently applied for the Smart Cities Challenge, a major initiative for the federal government that committed $75 million for four winning cities.

All signs point to the fact smart and healthy cities are what is required, not only for health, but also to be eligible for federal funding.

When municipalities take urban density, mixed land use, public transit, walking and cycling seriously, these investments offer a high return on investment, which can mean a more efficient use of public funds in the long term.

Investing in public transit, walking and cycling friendly communities are shown to be beneficial for people’s physical and mental health by facilitating social capital, like trust and social networks between neighbours, while building a greater feeling of community and pride of place.

Policy driven

The research in the Walkabilly lab in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation is using smart technologies, including smartphone applications, wearable devices, geographic information systems and computer visions to develop new methods to understand how people move around cities, what factors about the environment influence behaviour, and how we can make cities healthier.

Our work in the lab is important to advance research and potentially to improve health.

“Like it or not, change is coming to our communities.”

That said, we are keenly aware that decisions about policies that will promote urban density, mixed land use, public transit, walking and cycling are achievable today without major changes in technology.

Like it or not, change is coming to our communities. It’s time for action on healthy cities in St. John’s and on the Avalon Peninsula.

There is momentum toward making change for healthy communities on the Avalon, but we must embrace change to make this happen.

Change is hard.

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