Our neighbourhoods are essential spaces for physical activity and social connectedness.

Troy D. Glover

Dr. Troy Glover, chair of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, with the help of Christa Costas-Bradstreet, director of partnership and policy at the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA), are inspiring people to look at their neighbourhoods in a new way – not just as utilitarian spaces, but as areas in which they can be creative, try new things, connect with others and build community ties.

Together they’ve created Activate Your Neighbourhood, a tactical guide aligned with Canada’s physical activity strategy, Let’s Get Moving.

Recommendations based on research findings

“The guide is inspired by my research program,” explains Glover, who is also the director for the Health Communities Research Network (HCRN), a network focused on community initiatives of equity, livability, conviviality, sustainability, prosperity, governance and other features that make a community healthy and productive.

Quality of life is at the heart of Glover’s research, with a concentration on what attaches an individual or group to a space, and how social relationships can allow individuals to access resources that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

“I want to really emphasize the social connectedness part of this,” says Glover. “The more research I do on social connection and health outcomes, the more I see how intertwined they are.”

The initial idea for Activate Your Neighbourhood began during the COVID-19 pandemic. Costas-Bradstreet reached out to Glover to discuss what was going on around them.

During the height of the pandemic, 59 per cent of Canadians claimed to feel lonely and isolated or both.

“We are living through a crisis that was only exacerbated by the pandemic,” says Glover. “When we look at the research and the evidence, social connectedness is the best thing we can do for our health and well-being, surpassing even cutting out smoking."

Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, many Canadians sought out new ways to be active and stay connected while playgrounds, schools and gyms were closed.

“I saw neighbourhoods block off the roads from traffic to create a safe space to play outside,” Glover recalls.

Yet physical inactivity and sedentary living among Canadians is an ongoing issue. According to the Let’s Get Moving strategy published by the Public Health Agency of Canada, nearly half of Canadian adults are not physically active enough to benefit their health and well-being.

“I suspect there is a pent-up desire for connection,” says Glover. “And that in many ways, we have forgotten that there is so much potential.”

How it works

The guide contains six strategy “lenses” to consider when thinking about how to activate our local spaces in a way that appeals to everyone in it. These lenses explore accessibility, seasonality, the presence and type of dwellings, landscape and environment, diversity and more.

Once the neighbourhood has been analyzed, there are seven tactics, plus tools and resources tabs to help along the way.

Glover describes one of the tactics – aestheticizing – and how art in various forms can shift the cultural energy within a neighbourhood and beautify an area. From yarn bombing to little street libraries, there are many ways to animate an otherwise mundane space.

“Anything that can cause us to pause in our busy life can become a conversation piece,” he says. “We want to send out cues that let others know it's okay to engage with them, cues that give permission to engage in behaviours they may not otherwise.”

Another tactic – culinizing – includes the incorporation of food into neighbourhood spaces and events. For example, one of the many ideas on how to explore food on a neighbourhood level is to create a “falling fruit map,” where people can point out where fruit-bearing trees are located, and perhaps organize a group walk to collect what’s in season, either to enjoy themselves or to donate to a local food bank.

“It’s about inspiring people to take initiative by giving them ideas, and hoping they create new ideas,” says Glover. "And to encourage people to do things together, build friendships and enhance family bonds.”