In order to be widely used, public spaces need to feel safe for everyone. And in order to strengthen the health and well-being of the population, public spaces need to support a variety of beneficial health-related outcomes, which can be accomplished through the provision of recreational opportunities, the enabling of food security and wellness opportunities, and the fostering of social interaction and community connections. While safety has always been part of the responsibility of municipal governments, it is only recently that the public and population health lens is being reapplied to city activities. This work comes not a moment too soon. The focus on safe spaces, healthy built environments, active transportation and other aspects of healthy planning all benefit from this perspective. The increased presence of a health and safety lens will only improve the performance of the city’s public realm.
Public spaces that support health and well-being, including various forms of active transportation, opportunities for social interactions and access to local food. Spaces should be safe and feel safe for everyone.
(1) Emphasize opportunities for active transportation and healthy living – Compared with many other cities, Vancouver is already very active. Let’s build on that trend by ensuring that residents and visitors alike can utilize our public spaces for active forms of getting around and other aspects of healthy living. This means ensuring the network of pubic pathways is systematically improved and connected for convenient use and trip planning (e.g. more connected bike lanes, wider walkways for foot, scooter and stroller traffic). It can also mean programmatic activities, such as more community centre courses to encourage people to get outside to use public spaces for recreations. Lastly, it can mean smaller, neighbourhood-scale investments, such as a revitalization of playing fields or the installation of fixed exercise equipment (i.e., pull up bars, rock-climbing bouldering walls) in our parks.
(2) Continue to develop a proactive policy for community gardens – Urban gardens provide residents access to healthy foods and an opportunity to interact with people in their neighbourhood – two aspects that are supportive of health! The City’s Greenest City program called for the creation of more community gardens and orchards across the City. Continue with this push and look to incorporate urban agriculture opportunities. Develop a more proactive communications strategy to counter the myths surrounding community gardens (i.e. that they privatize public space or poses a negative impact on property values).
(3) Initiate an aggressive clamp-down on motorized vehicles that violate the vehicle noise bylaw – Excessive noise (both constant and spontaneous) has negative health implications. Read the letters-to-the-editor page in summertime and you’ll hear it loud and clear: modified tailpipes on cars and motor-bikes have to be reigned in. The brain-numbing, conversation-destroying noise they produce is not only a major irritant, but it poses a health risk to people by literally hammering the eardrums and nervous system simultaneously. Let’s not confuse the issue: some noise (e.g. celebrations, festivals, conviviality) is an acceptable by-product of urban living. Excess vehicle noise, however, is just plain obnoxious.
(4) Lighting and safety – Lighting is very important on pedestrian and bike routes. Proper lighting offers a sense of personal safety plus it allows obstructions (including people) and other injury risks to be avoided. Many residential bike routes are inadequately lit at night and this should be attended to in a way that won’t keep the neighbours up. Conduct an audit of key pedestrian corridors and designated bike routes to determine lighting improvements needs. Where necessary, plan for good, pedestrian-scale lighting fixtures.
(5) More community policing offices and community police, fewer cameras – The City’s investment in community policing is barely $1 million a year, which gets spread out over 10 offices (roughly 1 for every two of the City’s 22 neighbourhoods). Compare this to the total 200 million dollar operational budget for the Vancouver Police Department and you begin to get a sense for policing priorities. Community policing offers ‘real’ eyes on the street and a sense of connection to the neighbourhood’s residents (plus, police are accountable to the public in a way that private security firms are not). The continued pursuit of technological solutions (e.g. surveillance technology) offers a poor alternative. Our mantra? Invest in community police, not cameras.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Strategic efforts to establish partnerships with Vancouver Coastal Health, provincial and national government health agencies, and health researchers – Establish partnerships with VCH and other government agencies to guide municipal policies, projects and programs that have an impact on health and well-being of residents. Seek partnerships with health researchers to evaluate the health related outcomes of these polices, projects and programs.
Strategic reallocation of budgetary dollars for health, specifically, active transportation social connections and use of public space - Realign capital investments in road infrastructure to support the creation of a better pedestrian and cycling environment as well as access to amenities, such as street furniture, water fountains and bathrooms. If you built it… they will come and use it and the city will be all the better for it.
Modest investments in infrastructure – The Park Board has a roster of park-upgrades that get completed each year. As part of the design and planning that goes along with this, build more infrastructure, such as fixed exercise equipment to encourage physical fitness. The City’s Engineering Department should continue to receive funding through the capital budget in order to fund water hook-ups to community gardens
Policy Development – City staff have been tasked with developing a supportive and consistent approach to urban agriculture. When complete, this should provide clear and coherent guidance both across City departments and for the public.
Bylaw enforcement – Develop a penalty system that can be attached to traffic noise bylaw violations – or the businesses that enable them – that can help to fund enforcement efforts.
Strategic reallocation of budgetary dollars for community policing offices – A greater proportion of the existing policing budget targeted to support community policing centres.
1> Good spaces to congregate: ensuring more and better places to gather
2> Good spaces for connection: facilitating better, more active and sustainable ways for people to move
3> Natural spaces: for habitat, heritage and recreation
4> Spaces that are healthy, safe and welcoming
5> Spaces for culture, economy, learning and play
6> Spaces for expression and engagement