Cohesive Communities are Healthier Communities
by Sara Chow
With a growing variety of opportunities for participation in our community in new and different ways, it is a great time to build a more cohesive relationship with your community and participate in it. Not only will this help you to experience our beautiful city and the people in it more, but it will also have a positive impact on the health of our community.
Many factors can influence one’s health. When it comes to population health, these factors are called the ‘social determinants of health’, and they refer to the social and economic environment, physical environment and a person’s individual characteristics and behaviours. More specifically, social determinants include everything from one’s culture, income, education and housing to their built environments (i.e. parks, sidewalks), feelings of social justice and access to healthy food.
The Public Health Agency of Canada highlights social environments as a key determinant of health. A social environment can be thought of as your immediate family, friends, your support networks, etc. It also applies to the array of values and norms of a society, strength of social networks, social cohesiveness and civic participation. There are some obvious healthy benefits to taking advantage of the new multi-purpose trails, bike lanes, and new walking paths at Boulevard Lake – exercise! However, you are also being healthy, in a less conventional way, when you go out with your friends in the downtown Port Arthur area, attend the Movie Nights in the Park, walk over to McGillvray Square to find the food trucks or visit a community garden because you are engaging in your community and building attachments to locations, people and activities.
Building attachments to your community is key. The Public Health Agency of Canada also highlights the importance of ‘civic vitality’, which refers to the strength of social networks within in a community. Civic vitality is reflected in the institutions, organizations and informal giving practices that people create to share resources and build attachments with others. It’s the attachment that you build when you participate in your community that keeps people in our city, influences social norms, and builds a stronger sense of pride in where you live. Now that Thunder Bay has a booming social scene, there is a great opportunity to build more cohesive relationships and enhance our civic vitality.
How can you improve your cohesiveness? Just like a diet or exercise goal, set a social cohesiveness goal for yourself. For example, try one new local activity each month (i.e. disc golf at Boulevard Lake or a walk at Mills Block Conservation Area or volunteer at a community event like the Can-Am Police-Fire Games). By trying new things, it will help you to see our city in different ways and may help you to create attachments to it in different ways. All you have to do is participate!