Building a “healthy Kitchener”


In my last post, I expressed concern about the direction that the City of Kitchener was taking after reviewing its “Safe and Healthy Community Advisory Committee.”

I am speaking at tonight’s City Council meeting. What follows are my planned remarks.

We need a healthy community committee

I am concerned about the proposed changes to the city’s “Safe and Healthy Community Advisory Committee.”

Let me start by saying that the most important word in that title is the word “Community.” “Safe” and “Healthy” are adjectives to describe the type of community the committee is tasked to help build. “Advisory” is what it does.

We can take the word “Safe” off the table though since it tends to be misunderstood. A healthy community is a safe community and by addressing the root causes of crime, it prevents crime among other benefits.

When I worked at the YMCA, I learned the meaning of building a healthy community. To the YMCA that meant holding leadership classes, being open to all, and having a warm, friendly culture that encouraged relationships and a sense of community. It also meant helping immigrants settle into their new community, providing quality child care, connecting kids to nature through its camps, running an Early Years Centre and enhancing neighbourhoods requiring additional supports through a Virtual YMCA programs. They did so through a philosophy of building strong kids, strong adults and strong communities through growth in spirit, mind and body. Their strategy to a holistic approach to health was informed by the World Health Organization’s Social Determinants of Health.

If the YMCA has a role in building a healthy community–and is concerned about more than physical health, surely the City of Kitchener should have a committee with a broader focus than healthy living–even if it looks at safety issues “as needed.”

The city has many areas of responsibility that contribute towards the health of our community. It has been expressed in ways such as:

  • the concept of complete streets & complete neighbourhoods in the draft Official Plan
  • support for community centres, neighbourhood associations and the Festival of Neighbourhoods.
  • an economic development plan that recognizes the importance of arts and culture

These are only samples of how the city executes its strategic plan called “A Plan for a Healthy Kitchener” and goes beyond a physical definition of health.

Does the city require a committee of citizens who can provide advice on how it builds a Healthy Kitchener. Yes!

Compass Kitchener helps establish the city’s strategic direction and evaluates results but outside of engagement it does not focus on how the strategy is implemented. Other committees such as Environment, Cycling and Arts and Culture look at specific areas of implementation but the city does much more that could benefit from citizen input.

For example, an effective, results-focused work plan for a “Healthy Community Committee could include:

  • performing Crime Prevention Through Environmental  Design audits on city properties with an emphasis on new or renovated facilities and their relationship with the surrounding area
  • helping neighbourhood associations to communicate with each other and helping residents in areas without a neighbourhood associations
  • recommending how public spaces such as the Kitchener Market or Civic Square can be more successful
  • taking an active role in the station-area planning along the Central Transit Corridor

I am offering to join the city’s Healthy Community Committee and help it contribute to a better Kitchener–if it retains its broader approach.

I request that instead of supporting the Community and Infrastructure Committee’s motion to direct the committee’s work plan and to give it a short extension to prove itself that Council direct the recruitment of a committee with a broad range of expertise and interest in building a healthy community. The committee should review and if necessary revise its terms of reference and develop a results-based work plan. I believe each of these steps require going to Committee or Council. By no later than the end of September 2013, the Healthy Community Committee should be able to start its work to prove its worth and have results before the next cycle of advisory council recruitment in late 2014.

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