Implementation of Hamilton Neighbourhood Action plans will benefit health
SPRC releases report on multiple ways that neighbhourhood changes can improve residents’ health and reduce gaps in health equity across Hamilton
By Sara Mayo, Social Planner, Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton
This week, at an historic meeting attended by over 250 residents, the General Issues Committee of Hamilton City Council unanimously endorsed with great fanfare four neighbourhood plans developed by residents with support from community development workers and city staff. This was a significant step to validate the asset-based, health-promoting, community-development approach that is key to Hamilton’s Neighbourhood Action Strategy and used in ten Hamilton neighbourhoods and has involved over 4,100 residents so far.
Council’s actions also set in motion the implementation of these plans, which have great potential to begin to reduce the glaring gaps in health outcomes across Hamilton’s neighbourhoods. While a neighbourhood clearly can’t build a hospital or find a cure for cancer, there are lots of other actions at the neighbourhood level which improve health.
In fact, the most important and cost-effective recipe for better health lies not in health care, but in improvements to the physical, social, economic, and cultural environment in cities and neighbourhoods. That’s the message from a new Social Research and Planning Council of Hamilton report entitled “7+ ways your neighbourhood can improve your health”, that was released at the same meeting.
Actions to create healthy neighbourhoods are necessary to level the playing field by improving daily life for those who have often been socially excluded. For example, Aboriginal people and racialized communities, women, or persons with disabilities are more likely to be public transit users, pedestrians, earning a low wage, or to be food insecure. So applying a health-lens to neighbourhood planning can often be most beneficial for residents who experience the most social exclusion, and whose health may be the most compromised.
Things like better parks can provide opportunities for physical activity and can improve mental health through community engagement activities that build and strengthen relationships. Other examples include better public transit, making streets more walkable by widening sidewalks, and adding bike lanes. Changes to neighbourhood transportation options have personal health benefits from making it easier for people to use active modes for short trips, but also improve neighbourhood air quality for all residents.
The report also suggests ways outside of improvements to a neighbourhood’s physical infrastructure to improve health. These include working with residents and schools to get more students to finish high school and pursue post-secondary education and working with businesses to convince them of the benefits of paying living wages for their employees. Education and income have both been shown to be strongly tied to health status.
Hamilton’s Neighbourhood Action Strategy has created the impetus for some of these conversations about health and neighbourhood improvements, and each neighbourhood’s plan addresses health in their own ways, and examples are given in the report.
The short four-page report is available on the SPRC website, and paper copies are also available for free by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or (905) 522-1148, Ext. 0.
SPRC REPORT: 7+ ways your neighbourhood can improve your health
CITY REPORT: Neighbourhood Action Strategy (including plans for four neighbourhoods)
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: City of Hamilton’s Neighbourhood Development Strategy