A healthy community for children is a healthy community for all
By Michael J Morris
When I was a kid growing up in a small town, I travelled all over the place on my tricycle, and as the years passed graduated to my two wheel bicycle waving at folks and at times stopping to chat. I climbed the trees in our yard and in all ways felt part of the community.
I was reminded of those wonderful years while reading about an initiative launched by Dana Osiowy, executive director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Frankie Hols, youth liaison, to make Cranbrook more youth friendly.
It struck me as being quite amazing that a city now actually has to undertake a project to ensure that it is youth friendly, but after doing a bit of research, I began to grasp the need for it.
I came across work being done by the International Making Cities Livable Council and the National Town Builders Association in the United States who are partnering "to guide the development of a “Child-Friendly Community” Certification Program that gathers together under one umbrella all of the guidelines necessary to design and restore neighborhoods that encourage children’s physical and emotional health and well-being – neighborhoods that provide children with the free range and daily contact with nature and community that their grandparents enjoyed.
"The guidelines will incorporate the collective wisdom – from many disciplines and many countries – to set standards for Child-Friendly Communities, and will be made available to developers and municipalities. Qualifying projects will be officially certified and celebrated as 'Child-Friendly'."
What has happened? Well, council and association points out there was a "time when kids had free range of their neighborhoods – shimmying up trees, biking around their community, and being greeted by neighbors."
That was my life experience for sure, but they explain that "Today, however, due to modern zoning practices, planning for the car, and uncontrolled growth, children are growing up unhealthy, obese, and depressed in sprawling subdivisions. We cannot damage the health of another generation of children."
Their vision: "Contact with nature, opportunities to walk and bike, and participation in community social life improve the health and well-being of adults, as well as children. By creating communities responsive to the needs of children and young people, this approach to community planning will also result in neighborhoods, towns and cities that are ecologically and socially sustainable. The most sustainable community is one that raises healthy children who maintain their involvement in community, and love for nature into adulthood, and transmit these values to their children. A healthy community for children is a healthy community for all."
My quick search for some information led to the discovery that the City of Surrey launched a Child and Youth Friendly City Strategy in 2009. Its purpose is to increase opportunities for children and youth to meaningfully engage in civic issues and contribute to the community; to create vibrant public spaces that promote social connection and play, and to increase young people's interaction with access to nature."
All in all, it is a pretty sad commentary on our society that we now need to certify communities as "child friendly" and city's need child and youth friendly strategies, but the more I think on it, the more I agree -- somewhere along the way, myself included, we have forgotten the kids, and are less healthy for it. I wish Dana well with her initiative, and I hope the powers that be in Cranbrook pay more than lip service to it.
As always, your comments are welcome. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Full disclosure: I am not now and never have been a member of the Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society; however, I did conduct a workshop for its members for which I was paid.