Edmonton study to launch new designs in healthy housing

University of Alberta medical researcher Karen Lee will lead Edmonton's Housing for Health project. Courtesy, University of Alberta

More than 4,000 individuals will get the chance to live in a more healthy way, thanks to a new research project that aims to build healthier communities, especially for seniors.

The Housing for Health project was introduced Tuesday at city hall and will be led by University of Alberta medical researcher Karen Lee.

The goal is to build an urban village that’s dense enough so that amenities are nearby to keep all of us active, and local businesses viable to serve those apartments.

“You have to have enough people in that community to support businesses and services being around you. That means that you have to have different types of housing around you,” Lee said.

“So not necessarily only single-family housing but also housing that would increase density, like condos or duplexes and we’re starting to do that in a lot of communities.”

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By keeping us active, incidents of poor physical health are reduced, where Lee said outcomes like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers are reduced. The same, she said, happens with mental health as communities decrease examples of social isolation.

“How we design our communities and our housing developments can actually make a big difference in whether people can age healthily. Whether people can walk, whether they can have recreational amenities, whether they have healthy food around them, and studies show us when you can do those things you can be healthier.”

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Different designs will be explored with developers, which Lee said could include connecting grocery stores right to mid-sized apartments to keep healthy food within reach during winter. She said other designs will be tried out as well.

“When the amenities are near them, we also have to connect them by safe pedestrian paths. It’s helpful if you have nice landscaping or interesting things to see as you walk along. You have to be able to cross the street safely, so pedestrian crossings that allow, for example, parents pushing a stroller, or seniors with walkers to actually have enough time to cross the street.”

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The $4.4-million, five-year project will see two sites, one each in Edmonton and Whitecourt. The money comes from a federal grant through the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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