New guidelines show how changes to our built environment can help Canadians develop healthier lives and communities
Telford Mews, a mixed-income housing development in Leduc, Alberta, is pioneering healthier retirement living by adopting Canada’s newly released Healthy Community Guidelines.
Developed by the University of Alberta’s Housing for Health initiative with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, these guidelines promote physical activity, healthy eating, and social connections through thoughtful building and neighbourhood environment changes.
Residents of Telford Mews experience a welcoming stairwell flooded with natural light and a sign reminding them to use the stairs for better wellbeing.
The building’s restaurant offers healthier breakfast and lunch options, such as coconut mango chia bowls and vanilla blueberry oatmeal, alongside standard menu choices.
A move-in package includes a map to nearby healthy amenities, encouraging walking access to essential services like a grocery store.
Designed as one of three pilot projects, Telford Mews showcases how building and site design, along with neighbourhood amenities, can align with the new Healthy Community Guidelines to support healthier lifestyles among residents.
These guidelines resulted from extensive consultation and collaboration over nearly three years, engaging over 100 partners, including urban planners, architects, developers, health professionals and community leaders.
- Social participation promotes optimal ageing in older adults
- Changing behaviour in different social interactions
- Link between social isolation and dementia risk factors
- Older adults who remain more active have a better quality of life
Incorporating healthy amenities
Karen Lee, director of Housing for Health and an associate professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the U of A, said: “Our strategies to promote healthy living encompass a wide range of approaches that can be implemented at minimal to no extra cost.
“From incorporating healthy amenities in and around housing, to using art and coloured paint to entice people into spaces we want them to use, like the stairs, and wayfinding signage for healthy amenities, these changes can have a significant impact on public health.”
Evidence suggests that even simple changes to our building and neighbourhood environments can have substantial effects on public health.
Non-communicable illnesses, like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases, are now the leading causes of death in Canada and globally, as reported by the World Health Organization.
Informed by experiences from New York City, where similar multi-sector collaborations led to positive health outcomes, the Canadian guidelines aim to support various partners, including municipalities, builders, public health advocates, and communities, in planning, designing, building, and maintaining healthier living spaces.
The focus on physical activity, healthy eating, and social connections helps combat key risk factors for health issues.
The guidelines emphasise improving housing designs and housing proximity to healthy retail businesses to promote walking and access for those who can’t drive, like seniors. Additionally, they provide recommendations for better signage, sidewalks, and transit access, even in rural and smaller communities.
Besides Leduc, other pilot projects in Alberta include an affordable housing development for seniors in Edmonton and a seniors’ complex in Whitecourt that includes independent living, supportive living and dementia care.
Image: Telford Mews mixed-income housing in Leduc, Alta., is one of three pilot developments designed to bring Canada’s new Healthy Community Guidelines to life. Credit: Faith Kampen, Housing for Health.