City of Waterloo’s Safe and Healthy Communities Advisory Committee

By Kim Hodgson, HC Link & D’Arcy Farlow, Consultant

In the summer of 2008, the City of Waterloo established its first Safe and Healthy Communities Advisory Committee. With a focus on “livability, neighbourhood capacity building and inclusion”, the Committee has brought a healthy community focus to the planning processes of the City of Waterloo. Volunteer Chair, D’Arcy Farlow, says that the first step was to educate committee members and City Council on the concept of a ‘healthy community’ and the determinants of health. Since then, the committee has successfully implemented several activities related to increased availability of community gardens, support for active transportation and improved community engagement and collaboration.

WaterlooCommunityStory“Our committee was given the opportunity to comment on the City’s Official Plan, and one of our recommendations was that there be a greater focus on supporting community gardens in local neighbourhoods,” says committee member Patrick Germann. “Community Gardens not only provide people with vegetables and fruit, but they are a great way to bring people together within a neighbourhood; to get to know each other better.”  The committee also hosted a Walkable/Bikeable Forum with Gil Penalosa. The excitement from this forum was contagious and a local councilor has championed Open Streets festivals in the summer.

Demonstrating its commitment to community involvement in the local planning process, the committee was successful in influencing the City’s current strategic plan, especially as it relates to neighbourhood engagement. “The committee is really interested in supporting individual neighbourhoods to get involved in local projects that meet their needs,” says Laurie Strome, a longtime neighbourhood leader and activist. “In 2012, we managed to establish a small Neighbourhood Matching Fund based on a model [www.neighborpower.org] established by Jim Diers in Seattle.” According to City of Waterloo BIA representative, Glen Polson, neighbourhood residents match community funds with sweat or volunteer equity to undertake local projects. In the first year, seven projects were funded. The response to the fund was so successful that City Council voted in January 2013 to double the amount of money in the fund. The Committee’s newest undertaking is a Decision-Making Lens which will assist Councilors and staff to consider the impact of their decisions on the health and safety of the community.

D’Arcy credits the success of the Committee to the commitment and ideas of its diverse members, as well as their supportive relationship with City Council.

“It’s been crucial to have the support of the City and because we report directly to Council, they are very aware of the issues that we are tackling. Plus, we have a great opportunity to work together on new directions that contribute to the city’s livability.”

Members come from very diverse areas: neighbourhood associations, heritage and culture, community policing, public health, the local library, sports and recreation, the Crime Prevention Council, as well as parents and academics focusing on children and nature. According to member Kris Schumacher, “Because each person around the table is tapped into different sectors, we all bring very different ideas and perspectives to the table. And because we have people from such different areas, we hear about all sorts of opportunities that we would not have otherwise. We are fortunate in that we are flexible enough to be nimble when opportunities arise and, with our formal relationship with the City, we can get feedback and direction quickly so we can ‘get going’.” It doesn’t get much better than that!

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