The Active Neighbourhoods Canada network is an innovative pan-Canadian partnership between the Montréal Urban Ecology Centre, the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation and Sustainable Calgary. Together, we are working to develop, pilot, refine, and share innovative approaches to co-designing active neighbourhoods. We work with communities to build neighbourhoods that support walking, cycling, and other means of active transportation for everyone, by providing safe and welcoming urban design. Based on a vision of long-term “liveability,” these neighbourhoods are designed collectively. Our approach to co-designing the active city fosters community linkages, encourages a connection with natural systems, and allows citizens to develop a sense of belonging. We call this approach “participatory urban planning”.
There is a growing body of literature that demonstrates a link between public health, equity, and built environments that support active transportation. Our approach operates at the intersection of these factors, and we strive to build equity in both planning processes and outcomes.
Why Active Transportation?
Evidence suggests that design favouring utilitarian walking and cycling—also called active transportation—can address the growing need for Canadians to become more physically active. In fact, the interplay between physical activity and neighbourhood urban design is becoming a target of Canadian health system.
Promoting Health Equity
Looking through the lens of equity has highlighted how urban design disproportionately impacts the health of “vulnerable” populations (particularly people with low socio-economic status) through increased traffic exposure, lack of supportive infrastructure for walking and cycling, community severance, and decreased access to green spaces.
If Canadian health promotion practitioners are to pursue active transportation as a target to address inactivity, they must recognize how the built environment in communities with low-socio-economic status is a barrier to safe access to active transportation.
Promoting Social Equity
People experiencing low socio-economic status also face barriers to participating in formal municipal urban planning processes. This inequity in planning processes results in built environments that favour certain populations and modes of transportation, while further marginalizing others. Our participatory planning approach gives voice to people who have historically experienced marginalization from planning processes.