A Powerful Collaborative Approach to Community Health in the Capital Regional District
Children skateboarding to school; communities working together to remove barriers that keep members of some groups from being physically active; residents seamlessly transitioning between cycling, taking transit and walking; families strolling to local playgrounds and trails; new immigrants to the area being welcomed with free bike safety courses; bike repair stations scattered in handy spots along the regional trail network: all of these visions and more are part of People Power, an innovative new program from the Capital Regional District (CRD).
In 2011, the CRD released their Pedestrian and Cycling Master Plan, a document detailing its goal of a “truly livable and environmentally sustainable community, where walking and cycling are key components of an innovative and integrated transportation system.”1 To reach these goals, the CRD created the collaborative powerhouse known as People Power. Support from community partners, the Victoria Foundation and the Traffic Safety Commission helps the program reach CRD residents in all regions and demographic groups.
As of this writing, People Power includes fifteen different projects being delivered in all areas of the capital region by a diverse group of community partners. Besides the projects described above, it also includes Living Streets events where communities temporarily repurpose roadways, a map to connect older adults and their caregivers with community resources, guided nature walks with story breaks for families with young children, a cycling map of Salt Spring Island, tools that map active transportation gaps, and more. The project is growing and evolving to meet community needs as it progresses.
People Power launched in May 2016 and is slated to run for two years, but its use of the collective impact model2 ensures that the lasting and significant change it creates will be felt in the region for many years to come. Over a dozen diverse community partners are involved, all with the same goal: to work beyond jurisdictional boundaries to encourage CRD residents to use active transportation more often.
“Our goal was not only to work together but add credibility and strengthen the capacity of other organizations to add active transportation to what they do.” - Sarah Webb, Active Transportation Program Manager, CRD
Power of Collaboration
The power of collaboration is an ongoing theme in the People Power initiative. “Our goal was not only to work together but add credibility and strengthen the capacity of other organizations to add active transportation to what they do,” explained Sarah Webb, Active Transportation Program Manager at the CRD. A major partner in the initiative is the Island Health Authority (Island Health), for whom seeking out collaborative projects is an ongoing priority. In the words of Helen VonBuchholz, a project manager with Island Health, “One of our focuses at Island Health is looking at ways we can partner with multiple different stakeholders and municipal governments to decrease risk factors that contribute to health issues. Promoting safe active transportation increases physical activity and decreases the risk factor of physical inactivity.”
The community partners involved in People Power come from both large and small organizations and include municipal staff, non-profit employees, citizen scientists, and people of all ages who are excited about the pleasure and potential of active transportation. VonBuchholz feels that the huge variety of community partners is one of the secrets to People Power’s success, explaining that “we recognize that so many of our partners have a huge key to knowledge that we don’t know or don’t have access to. We’re way stronger when we work together.”
Active and Safe Routes to School
The many community partners involved in the Active and Safe Routes to School project make it a microcosm of the People Power initiative. Lindsay Taylor, Active Transportation and Healthy Communities Program Assistant with the CRD, is one of the school travel planners working with a number of schools on the project, which involves over 20 schools throughout the region. The schools chosen were purposely diverse: a mixture of urban, suburban, and rural neighbourhoods with very different landscapes, communities and travel needs. A 15-month program will allow each school to analyze their active transportation needs and barriers and create a customized travel plan for their students.
The process will start with a walkabout at each school, including school staff, students and their families, but also community partners such as BC Transit, ICBC, and local police forces. The participants will use the data they collect to develop a transportation plan for the school. Taylor notes that this approach is a “systematic way to address what needs to change on the school grounds, but also what can change in the surrounding community. Municipalities can use this process to identify long-term capital projects like new bike lanes or even something as simple as curb cuts to help families with strollers or bikes get on and off the sidewalk.”
Whatever the details of each school’s plan, the focus will be on the unique and specific needs of the community, whether that turns out to be infrastructure changes, a skateboard repair program, bike skills training, walking challenges, or any other large or small change that can help students use active transportation both on their school route and as part of their daily lives.
Active and Safe Routes to School is a true multi-sectoral collaboration, and the multiple perspectives being brought to the table will ensure that the travel plans being developed not only encourage students to get to school via active transportation, but will help them develop healthier habits that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Removing Barriers to Active Transportation
Research has shown that girls aged 7-15 are at risk for developing an increasingly sedentary lifestyle that can continue well into adulthood and increase their risk factors for many health conditions3. This means that even if schools and municipalities work to create active transportation plans and infrastructure, girls will still be statistically less likely to use it and thus less likely to grow up with healthy habits.
Island Health aims to challenge this existing pattern through an innovative initiative called Way 2 Go, an important piece of the People Power initiative. VonBuchholz describes the program as a “social marketing campaign to promote active and safe transportation from the perspective of individuals who face barriers to achieving healthy living goals throughout their lifespan.”
Way 2 Go will help educate girls aged 7-15 and their families about the importance of physical activity through a series of short videos. The videos will be the end result of extensive interviews and surveys with girls all over the region. The Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA), another People Power partner, will help connect Island Health with newcomers to Victoria and girls from a diversity of cultures to ensure that a variety of voices are heard. To further the inclusive nature of the project, Island Health plans to engage with both cisgender and transgender girls, as well as girls living in varied communities in the capital region.
VonBuchholz emphasizes that knowledge is power, explaining “if we increase people’s knowledge around the barriers that girls face, we will have really achieved what we’re looking for.” Once knowledge has been gathered about these barriers and the issue has been publicized through the videos, the hope is that People Power projects and other Island Health initiatives will to empower girls to stay active throughout their lives.
Creating a Legacy
It is important to all partners in the People Power initiative that their work continue past the two year span of the project. They are working to help all residents in the capital region cultivate a love of active transportation, as well as the knowledge and skills to appreciate that, in the words of Sarah Webb, “safe active transportation is possible, effective, and viable no matter where you are in the region, whether that’s urban, rural or suburban.” People Power will undoubtedly create lasting habits in many residents, but the community partners involved in the initiative plan to ensure that long-term institutional change happens as well. The organizations brought together by People Power plan to continue their collaboration well past the lifetime of the project to ensure that relationships and networks they are building will continue to grow and thrive.
“Safe active transportation is possible, effective, and viable no matter where you are in the region, whether that’s urban, rural or suburban.” - Sarah Webb, Active Transportation Program Manager, CRD
One of the goals of People Power is to encourage all municipalities to invest in active transportation to build a happier and healthier future for their residents. Sarah Webb explains that this can be a challenging proposition, since “the benefits that are created in a community through active transportation are not necessarily realized by that level of government. A municipality puts in a safe, attractive place to walk or cycle but the health benefits are realized by an entirely different level of government. We want to help build the case that active transportation is a good investment for all levels of government by making the connection between healthy, happy residents and an attractive, welcoming and safe built environment.” To this end, a focus on data collection and evaluation has been built into each project under the People Power umbrella. The data gathered should clearly demonstrate that active transportation is a benefit for all levels of government, as well as improving physical and mental health for all community members.
People Power’s commitment to collective impact means that community partners are focused on long-term collaboration for lasting change. To this end, the partners have formed a program delivery network where they get together a couple of times each year to share information, ideas and challenges. This knowledge of other organizations’ strengths and specialties should allow rich collaborative opportunities on other projects in the future and is a good way to connect groups in the region who could benefit from working together. In Sarah Webb’s words, “we want to facilitate the idea of working together because there will not be one organization or project that makes it happen. Change will come from a whole series of efforts along the way.”
The legacy of the People Power initiative is sure to continue well past the two years of the program and will doubtless empower many CRD residents to integrate more forms of active transportation into their daily routines. Walking, cycling and rolling even slightly more often can have a huge impact on both individual mental and physical health and the overall health of the region.
1 Capital Regional District. Regional Pedestrian Cycling Master Plan. (Victoria, BC, 2011). http://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/regional-planning-pdf/pedestrian-amp-cycling-master-plan.pdf?sfvrsn=0
2 "Collective Impact is a framework to tackle deeply entrenched and complex social problems. It is an innovative and structured approach to making collaboration work across government, business, philanthropy, non-profit organisations and citizens to achieve significant and lasting social change." Collaboration For Impact. http://www.collaborationforimpact.com/collective-impact/
3 Sport for Life. Sport for Life for Woman and Girls. http://canadiansportforlife.ca/sport-life-women-and-girls
People Power Partners
- Capital Regional District
- Island Health
- Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA)
- The Greater Victoria Placemaking Network
- Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CRFAIR)
- Island Pathways
- Walk On, Victoria
- Westshore Parks and Recreation
- People Power
- Active and Safe Routes to School
- CRD Active Transportation Survey
- 2011 CRD Pedestrian and Cycling Master Plan
- 2014 Regional Transportation Plan
- Associations between children’s behavioural and emotional development and objectively measured physical activity and sedentary time: Findings from the UK Millennium Cohort Study
Active Transportation & Healthy Communities Program Assistant, Capital Regional District
Project Manager, Island Health