At Veraine, Urban Habitats provided strategic thinking to inform this new settlement and community with a brief to create a place that is health creating for both planet and people. The proposed development is for a resident population of around 60,000 people and includes everything needed for a self-sustaining place from housing to infrastructure and services. As sustainability and health are integral to all of these the thinking cut across all areas including services as well as physical infrastructure. The site is located to the east of the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario’s ‘whitelands’ that in planning terms are neither part of the city nor protected countryside. The land is the traditional territory of First Nations peoples. And the site contains and is near to important ecosystems and nature.
Urban Habitats worked as part of a team led by Salus Global Knowledge Exchange: a knowledge community dedicated to designing a healthier society and a more sustainable planet and this work drew on that wider community of leading global thinkers. The aim was to provide evidence informed thinking that combined strategic direction combined with inspirational thought leadership and practical case studies from the wider SALUS network. At this early stage of thinking support included a set of Guiding Principles. SALUS also curated a roundtable working session with the developer and international thought leaders at the Healthy City Design congress.
Outputs from this initial work included a review of population and demographics both existing and projected; an evidence review of global healthy placemaking frameworks; a new eco-system approach tailored to the specific context; stakeholder mapping; production of a Guiding Principles aimed at a diverse audience from policy makers to public health and a wide range of other stakeholders; a concept illustrated through an infographic focused on implementing the principles.
The eco-system approach aimed to bring a complex systems / public health / social-ecologic approach to the guiding principles – deliberately avoiding producing another framework just for the sake of it but rather identifying the right tools for the job and ways of working to create health within what is complex web of connections.
The guiding principles had a strong focus on physical activity, access to nature, healthy food systems and also on creating health with people from all population groups. Zero carbon development and circular resource use were also embedded in the principles. The special role of First Nations was also recognised as an essential part of the next steps to create health for all, and to learn from the Indigenous knowledge that already exists about health, wellbeing, and this land.
More broadly through this work Urban Habitats supported SALUS’ development of their research and consulting services – aimed at supporting forward thinking organisations and communities to leverage and share the knowledge within the SALUS network and platforms.
What we learned:
This project provides an opportunity to consider how creating healthy places happens at a large scale: both the opportunities and challenges that this scale introduces. Protecting and enhancing nature whilst also providing for the needs of a growing population are complex problems that very much need Urban Habitats approach of: listening, thinking, and then making.
This work also allowed for further thinking, understanding, and exploration of rights of Indigenous peoples and First Nations. This thinking included for example the importance and value of Indigenous conceptualisations of health and wellbeing; and health inequalities First Nations specifically face and a holistic approach to designing these out of new development.
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