Factors that determine the health of a neighbourhood can be complex.
Like people, health can depend on physical activity. So in Edmonton, a community with recreational assets such as a gym, a playground, a soccer field or hockey rinks can be a sign of a healthy neighbourhood.
Then there’s diet. People need a healthy diet, so are grocery stores and restaurants (the non-fast food variety) a sign of a healthy community? And what about genetics? Who lived in this neighbourhood before? What has been passed down from generation to generation.
Kalen Anderson with the City of Edmonton is the director of urban policy and recently identified Edmonton’s healthiest neighbourhoods for Avenue Magazine.
Walkability and transit access
Downtown is healthy she says. High-density housing, mixed use areas with retail, corporate, arts, entertainment and sports. That includes Old Strathcona with a walkable main street as well as the Oliver district with a tree canopy. These communities are where people like to go because that’s where the people are. Anderson points to 124 Street in Oliver and calls it an up-and-coming district.
In identifying these walkable neighbourhoods, Anderson says walking is great for the body and for our emotional health. While Edmonton has lots of parks for recreational walking or running, being out on the street going to work or to the store or school means residents have more social interaction. More people out and about also means a neighbourhood can be safer.
Older neighbourhoods such as Old Strathcona and Oliver are laid out in a grid, easier for walking that the curvilinear streets in new communities, often with no sidewalks.
Back to recreational walking, Anderson says walking trails are good for the body and is happy to see that in Edmonton’s newer neighbourhoods, pathways through the community and around water features are now the norm.
Edmonton’s ravines are teeming with wildlife such as deer, birds, coyotes and the odd moose. Unspoiled natural areas such as these are good for the soul. Anderson says one such area that fosters a sense of well-being is Larch Park in the Magrath district of Edmonton which is on Whitemud Creek Ravine.
Within this new community, homes have to meet environmentally responsible standards for energy efficiency. Streets are illuminated with LED lights and the roads are narrow. Storm water running down the street is filtered through bioswales. There’s a community garden with a lovely apple orchard.
Larch Park is going in the right direction says Anderson, despite the fact that it’s “out there” and residents have to drive her and there to go to work, school or to get groceries. Transit infrastructure hasn’t kept up with suburban growth.
Community gardens reap the benefit of local grown product and positive social interactions.
Alberta Avenue has a community garden running parallel with the fence to the rear of the Alberta Avenue community building by 118th Avenue. With 40 plots put in over the last five years, it’s one of 90 community gardens across the city. Once a completely apathetic community, the garden is just one project that is revitalizing the neighbourhood by promoting social connections in the community.