Health is Everyone’s Business: Vancouver’s Healthy City Strategy

The City of Vancouver has a bold and ambitious strategy to build a healthy city for all by 2025. The Healthy City Strategy and Action Plan is a long-term plan for healthier people, healthier places, and a healthier planet. It addresses health in the broadest sense by integrating elements that influence well-being and involving diverse sectors in a shared vision of a healthy city for all residents. Driving the strategy are passionate City staff, a committed Council, and a high-profile collaborative leadership team.

Keltie Craig is the ‎social planner leading implementation for the Healthy City Strategy at City of Vancouver. She explains that, “because the Healthy City Strategy is the City’s social sustainability plan, it covers a lot of terrain beyond the typical things that people may think of in terms of health.”

The strategy aligns with other key City plans, which together cover the social, economic, environmental, and cultural pillars of sustainability. These pillars intersect and complement each other to create improvements to health and quality of life that are felt in many different areas of community members’ lives. This holistic approach reflects the interconnected nature of many health determinants. 

Collective Responsibility

The ideas in the Healthy City Strategy are deceptively simple. The strategy’s goals and actions focus on urban health and well-being, such as school readiness for children, adequate income for all, and community members’ sense of connection and belonging. But the simplest ideas are often the most challenging to implement, especially when they cut across many sectors and have the potential for enormous impact. As Craig notes, “When you think of all the elements that make up health and well-being and social sustainability, [the strategy] will really change the landscape and the dynamic for all residents in Vancouver.”

We have a responsibility to act to take better care of each other and that’s what the Healthy City Strategy is about—building healthy and inclusive communities for everyone that lives here.” – Catherine Ludgate, Manager of Community Investment with Vancity Savings Credit Union

The strategy recognizes the collective responsibility to build a healthy city, encouraging all sectors to work together to accomplish powerful change. This sentiment is echoed by Catherine Ludgate, Manager of Community Investment with Vancity Savings Credit Union. Vancity is a member of the strategy’s leadership table: “We have a responsibility to act to take better care of each other and that’s what the Healthy City Strategy is about—building healthy and inclusive communities for everyone that lives here, and recognizing and taking care of our neighbours.”

A Collaborative Leadership Table

Perhaps the most unique and powerful aspect of the Healthy City Strategy’s process is its 30-member leadership team composed of a diverse group of leaders from public, private and voluntary sectors. Although the members represent organizations with wide-ranging mandates (from homelessness to hip health), they all share the desire to improve equity in social conditions.

Ali Grant, former City of Vancouver staff lead for the initiative, knew that attracting participants to the leadership table would require preliminary research to get sector leaders excited. Explains Grant, “We knew we needed to have something with which to attract the people we needed to attract. We waited until we had a framework, until we had some draft targets, until we had done a lot of our own homework, to then bring the leadership table together.” Once there was enough work done to show to leaders, Grant notes that City staff were then able to say “this is how we would like to use your time.”

The table, co-chaired by city manager Sadhu Johnston and Vancouver Coastal Health’s chief medical health officer Dr. Patty Daly, benefits from active participation by members of the City’s Corporate Management Team who help implement the strategy. 

Benefits of Collaboration Across Sectors

Dr John Carsley, former medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, views the work done on the collaboration between the health authority and local government as essential to the Healthy City Strategy and Action Plan: “One of our concrete tasks is breaking down [past] silos—making sure that everybody knows what everybody else is doing and then encouraging coordination so we are more efficient about doing it.”

The City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health have signed a memorandum of understanding, creating a strong collaborative relationship between the two organizations. The municipality and the health authority have many common operational interests, and the Healthy City Strategy’s process has helped further align their common objectives to strengthen the work being done by both parties. Along with other stakeholders, the two organizations conducted the strategy’s extensive public engagement process, reaching more than 10,000 residents to ask for their best and boldest ideas for achieving a healthy city for all.

The City of Vancouver has mapped a path toward social sustainability for those working at the local level, building in ways to measure change with clear targets and providing a platform on which to gather and align resources. Janet Austin, chief executive officer of YWCA Metro Vancouver and member of the leadership table, describes the importance of the Healthy City Strategy and Action Plan and the leadership table from her organization’s perspective: “It gives us a framework for aligning all the players in the community, for sustaining a conversation over a longer period of time and for measuring our progress as we go.”

In 2016, two years after the strategy was approved by city council and one year after the action plan was approved, the table’s thrice-yearly meetings allowed staff and external project leads to “pitch” projects they were undertaking and make specific requests for help and support from table members. In 2017, the leadership table will be evaluated and renewed to further increase its impact.


More Information

Keltie Craig, MCIP Social Planner
Healthy City Strategy Social Policy & Projects
City of Vancouver

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