How to build healthier communities — and people

Telford Mews, a mixed-income housing development in Leduc, Alta., is pioneering healthier retirement living by adopting Canada’s newly released Healthy Community Guidelines. Developed by the University of Alberta’s Housing for Health initiative with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, these guidelines promote physical activity, healthy eating, and social connections through thoughtful building and neighborhood environment changes.

Residents of Telford Mews experience a welcoming stairwell flooded with natural light and a sign reminding them to use the stairs for better well-being. The building’s restaurant offers healthier breakfast and lunch options, including coconut mango chia bowls, vanilla blueberry oatmeal, and standard menu choices. A move-in package includes a map of nearby healthy amenities, encouraging walking access to essential services like a grocery store.

Designed as one of three pilot projects, Telford Mews showcases how building and site design, along with neighborhood amenities, can align with the new Healthy Community Guidelines to support healthier lifestyles among residents. These guidelines resulted from extensive consultation and collaboration over nearly three years, engaging over 100 partners, including urban planners, architects, developers, health professionals, and community leaders.

“Our strategies to promote healthy living encompass a wide range of approaches that can be implemented at minimal to no extra cost,” explains Karen Lee, director of Housing for Health and an associate professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the U of A. “From incorporating healthy amenities in and around the housing to using art and colored paint to entice people into spaces we want them to use, like the stairs and wayfinding signage for healthy amenities, these changes can significantly impact public health.”

Evidence suggests that even simple changes to our building and neighborhood environments can substantially affect public health. Non-communicable illnesses, like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases, are now the leading causes of death in Canada and globally, as the World Health Organization reported.

Informed by experiences from New York City, where similar multi-sector collaborations led to positive health outcomes, the Canadian guidelines aim to support various partners, including municipalities, builders, public health advocates, and communities, in planning, designing, building, and maintaining healthier living spaces. Focusing on physical activity, healthy eating, and social connections helps combat key risk factors for health issues.

The guidelines emphasize improving housing designs and housing proximity to healthy retail businesses to promote walking and access for those who can’t drive, like seniors. Additionally, they provide recommendations for better signage, sidewalks, and transit access, even in rural and smaller communities.

Besides Leduc, other pilot projects in Alberta include an affordable housing development for seniors in Edmonton and a seniors’ complex in Whitecourt that includes independent living, supportive living, and dementia care.

Contact

Ross Neitz | U of A media strategist | [email protected] | 780-297-8354

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