October 17: “Generating a Holistic View of Urban Health”


For those who would like to write a Reading Response for Oct 17, here are four questions that you may consider to prompt your writing:

  1. What is Susan Hanson’s argument about gender, mobility, and sustainability? How does (physical and/or social) health underscore her discussion?
  2. The NWAC recommendations document is one example of how Bourassa et al’s findings may be translated into policy measures. Discuss the overlaps (and the gaps, as you see them) in these texts.
  3. The Complete Streets Gap Analysis gives a planner’s view of urban health, particularly in relation to modifying existing infrastructure to encourage many different forms of movement in cities. What does this discussion of design principles, policy tools, and case studies teach you about implementing measures aimed at changing urban mobility?
  4. The required readings provide one way of thinking more holistically about urban health. What other focus or material might you add to further develop a holistic view of urban health? (Be brief but specific: for example, are there readings or blogs that you would include?) This is an opportunity to bring in your own interest and expertise. When you do so, make sure you identify the framework that is provided by the required readings and how your example/s supplement that framework.

Lecture overview.

The disparate nature of this week’s readings is suggestive of the diverse approaches to, and ways to understand, urban health. Susan Hanson focuses on the relationship between gender and mobility (and the ways that social position informs movement generally), as well as the profound disconnect between the different modes of research aimed at addressing gender and mobility. Carrie Bourassa and her colleagues discuss the ‘legacies’ of colonialism and their implications for the health of Aboriginal women. The Native Women’s Association of Canada provides policy recommendations aimed at addressing the racism, sexism, and effects of colonialism that Bourassa et al describe. And the Complete Streets Gap Analysis illustrates the nuts-and-bolts of implementing policies and land use changes to support “active transportation.”

In this post, I want to highlight a couple of points from the readings but then turn to just a few of the many other issues that we could consider when addressing urban health.

The first point takes up Hanson’s discussion of gender-mobility research and its relevance to the direction and adoption of policies that encourage sustainable mobility and sustainable futures. In particular, I’m taken with Hanson’s ability to balance the contributions from distinct epistemologies and methodologies. I’m also taken with her resolution: she contends, “It is not enough to say that context matters, just as it is not enough to say that gender matters. We need to demonstrate how and where these matter and to whom (p. 18, my emphasis). Arguably, this is one way to begin to bridge what seems like a conundrum of irreconcilable differences; that is, the (perceived) chasm between post-structural theory (which takes as its task the deconstruction of seemingly coherent objects, such as the category “woman”) and policy (which seems to require a coherent object in order to address disenfranchisement and inequality). If you want a reminder of how this conundrum has influenced other research, revisit the Pratt chapters that we read at the beginning of the semester.

The second point relates to the Bourassa and NWAC texts. Writing about First Nations women’s efforts to address the needs of First Nations women living in urban areas, Evelyn Peters (2006, 323) offers a similar set of findings. She writes that First Nations women persistently identify “the need for services which not only address their situation as women in the city, but also take account of their needs as First Nations women. Some of these needs derive from perceptions of racism and inequitable treatment for Aboriginal women in non-Aboriginal organizations.” The larger argument that Peters makes is about the ways in which colonial definitions of First Nations identity have impacts on Aboriginal women’s daily lives: their mobility, the kinds of service provision they can access, the location of services, and so on. The point that all of these authors emphasize is the vastly inaccurate depiction of colonial practices and policies as ‘legacies’. Whereas legacy assumes that colonial policies are located in the past, these readings show that colonial practices and policies currently shape many Aboriginal women’s lives. In fact, we must extend that point: colonial practices and policies also shape the lives of those who quietly or explicitly benefit from the settler colonial narrative and its very material consequences. The debacle of the “Manifest Destiny” t-shirt produced by The Gap is a great example of how insidious racism is perpetuated by seemingly banal consumer trends. Thus, we need to be mindful of the ways that power works: to constrain, to bolster, to privilege some, to differentiate “us” from “them.” Two other great resources that are relevant to the discussion of settler colonialism and the colonial present: Adrienne K’s blog Native Appropriations offers timely and fantastic analyses of cultural appropriation and its effects, and Scott Morgensen’s popular forum for making links between his recent book, Spaces Between Us, and other (scholarly, activist) efforts toward decolonization.

Of course, the four texts for this week present a small sliver of the topics that might be covered under the rubric of “a holistic view of urban health.” Let me mention just a few others.

Urban design. As we have discussed during in-class conversations about walkability and a sense of place, the design of the built environment influences its use (or lack of use). This is true for monumental architecture such as the Oslo Opera; pictured in the header at the top of this page, the building and grounds function as a destination (concerts inside and outside), tourist attraction, and public space. It’s also the case for other types of development (e.g., residential, mixed-use, institutional): the use (or lack thereof) is informed in part by design. Of course, design is not the only factor at work. As Susan Handy and her colleagues (2002) write in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, urban design works in conjunction with land use patterns and transportation systems to promote a certain type of mobility. This is part of where the TCAT text comes in. As Devlin et al write (2009) in their report Physical Activity and Transportation Benefits of Walkable Approaches to Community Design in BC, “Modest changes in the walkability of a neighbourhood can translate into important, health-enhancing increases in active transportation and physical activity.”

Still, the energies being dedicated to interdisciplinary work that looks at design and use is exciting, particularly when this work addresses some form of social sustainability. http://makecalgary.com/ is one example that has emerged out of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design to encourage participatory urban design. The Pop-Up City is another; its focus is flexible urbanism. My favourite post featured the work of artist Candy Chang, who facilitated a neighbourhood imaginary about transforming un-used spaces into places that people need and desire.

Design by Candy Chang. The image comes from http://iwishthiswas.cc/.

Food (in)security. Urban health is inextricably linked to the food that is available to us. We can think about this in terms of food quality, cost, and accessibility, for instance: in a given neighbourhood, where can people buy food? Are there green grocers or markets, or must people rely on convenience stores and petrol stations? Is there a low-cost grocery accessible by public transit? Does the grocery in the neighbourhood accept food stamps or equivalent? Is there a neighbourhood garden or urban farm that serves the needs of community members (in terms of food and building social capital)?

The work being done on this topic alone could inspire a semester-long course. Urban food deserts are one area of concern; simply put, these are areas of cities that have little or no access to quality food sources. (Here is a Canadian focused blog on the topic developed by an undergrad student at the University of Guelph.) Food insecurity has particular health consequences for immigrant and refugee communities (three reports are being released by CERIS researchers later this week) and for people living in poverty. An initiative began today in BC to raise awareness about the current rate of income assistance, which leaves the single, able-bodied adult with $26 per week to feed themselves. Read about the initiative at http://welfarefoodchallenge.org/. Another (longer term) response to food insecurity is urban farming (and guerrilla gardening). Growing Power is a great example of an expansive urban farming-community engagement project.

Physical, mental, and emotional well-being. One small slice of this broad topic is freedom from violence and the threat of (physical, mental, and emotional) abuse. The work that feminist movements do -to support the needs of those targeted by intimate partner violence, for example, or to demand attention about violence against women- is central to the promotion of physical, mental, and emotional well-being. A recently published global study by Htun and Weldon (2012) has demonstrated the importance of feminist movements to addressing normative violence against women. The authors show that “strong, autonomous feminist movements were the first to articulate the issue of violence against women and the key catalysts for government action, with other organizations sidelining issues perceived as being only important to women. Strong movements commanded public support and attention, and convinced the media the issues were important for public discussion. In countries that were slower to adopt policies on violence, feminist movements leveraged global and regional agreements to push for local policy change.” (An example of the boomerang effect, which a student raised in class last week!) To further connect this point with last week’s material, Htun and Weldon note that feminist movements that were autonomous -outside of and not reliant on the support of the state or political parties- were better able to identify their priorities and organize to accomplish them. According to these authors, social changes that come from civil society -regardless of a country’s wealth or other factors- have the greatest effect to transform policies focusing on violence against women. (Thank you to Marsha for alerting me to this article!)

By comparison, in Vancouver, city government is currently undertaking a long-term strategy to address social sustainability using a model that encompasses healthy people, healthy communities, and healthy places. It remains to be seen how this strategy will be operationalized, and that will be determined in part by the participatory process that the city will engage in next year.

One thought on “October 17: “Generating a Holistic View of Urban Health”

  1. Pre-meeting Qs for Oct 17

    On Hanson, “Gender and mobility”
    When addressing the issue of women’s lower spatial mobility in relation to men, Hanson states that redress in terms of policy-making is complicated given that in addition to sensitive economic and environmental realities we do not currently understand how certain groups change their mobility patterns based on changing external circumstances. Hanson suggests that the best approach is to tease out the effects of context by synthesizing the body of context-sensitive studies identifying patterns and then making generalizations. She states she is aware that especially among feminists “the word ‘generalization’ sets off alarm bells and raises red, green and yellow flags”. Should it? How does what Hanson proposes differ from other methods of informing policy direction, such as social impact assessments?
    Through the article, the issue of gender and mobility being so incredibly intertwined is discussed. Hanson identifies two distinct strands, which look at how mobility shapes gender and how gender shapes mobility. How is this applicable in Canada and in particular Vancouver? And do you think mobility for women in Canada is dictated by constraint or choice (as Hanson defines constraint/choice)?

    I am curious to know if there have been any successful legal/social policies that have been created to cater to the gender and sustainable mobility relationship? If not, what would be a hypothetical example?

    In my view I could call forced immigration unsustainable mobility. Hanson mentioned that men move more than women. But with neoliberalism and globalization women move more than men. Therefore, which category can we place forced immigration and trafficking?

    On page 15 under the subheading of Gender and sustainable mobility, there is a paragraph about statistics and breaking down the percentage of women and men using sustainable modes of transport. I am interested to know where and how this data was collected. The author is trying to make a point that women contribute to fewer vehicle miles traveled (VMT)than men. However the author misses the fact maybe women are on foot or using cycling as a form of transport because maybe they cannot afford a maintaining a vehicle and all that it entails.

    On Bourassa, “Racism, Sexism, and Colonialism” and NWAC recommendations, “Gender Matters”
    It is odd to me that an aboriginal person can lose their status, when this can be described as being part of a cultural identity. Does the problem exist in the labeling of people? If you lose you status you may not be accepted back into the band again, because you lost that label or the symbol of your actions portrays that you are identifying with a different culture. With regard to the article, why is it that we still enforce these policies that continue to divide Aboriginal women (see footnote in article). Does this relate to the Downside of State Support article? It seems again that the government is creating divisions within policies which divide people, more specifically women.

    The NWAC (2012) contends that historic inequities and traditional community beliefs upheld in customary law should not outweigh contemporary priorities for Aboriginal women (Jackson, as cited in Bourassa et al, 2004). Do you believe that it is possible for Aboriginal women today to reach gender equity in the face of such challenges as discriminatory status entitlements and bands who fall back on the Indian Act’s earlier divisive policies? Why or why not?

    One of NWAC’s recommendations called on Federal, Provincial and Territorial governments to focus on youth justice and the reintegration of youth by focusing on less punitive measures. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (2003) has some aspects which focus on reintegration of youth (although not perfect). Can you think of any other programs which have attempted/attempts, promises to solve, or adhere to some of the recommendations made by NWAC. Which recommendations stand out to you the most?

    In Vancouver I see a great deal of sociopolitical divide between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. There are several organizations and resources which offer services for Aboriginal women and the community at large but how effective and transformational are these spaces particularly for Aboriginal women’s cultural identity, health and well-being? Further I am at a loss to find inclusive programs that create a space for Aboriginal women and non-Aboriginal women to engage, learn and communicate in a way that may enable us to bridge cultural assumptions, oppression, colonialism and historical animosity. It feels as though there is a deep divide in the way that Aboriginal affairs are being conducted between government initiatives, and grassroots organizing. This tends to be a messy subject that is met with a great deal of fear and frustration which leaves our communities in a state of sociopolitical paralysis. If cultural, gender and political mobility is something we strive for how can we overcome the barriers of history and formal political structures to move forward? How can a multicultural collective be established? Is this possible given our very problematic history? The readings discuss the issues at hand but I still have no idea how one would begin to put the information and theories into practice on a larger scale than simply personal politics.

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