The Northeast Avalon is unique. Communities cozied in or near
sheltered bays along the coast, remind us of one of the most
important determinants of health for the first settlers, the
Life in the province has been long shaped by the environment,
including everything from our short growing season and the lack of
fertile soil, to blankets of fog, wind, and heavy
precipitation (1). And while we may no longer be as
reliant on the natural environment for our livelihoods, it still
plays an important role in determining our health.
A healthy natural environment is an important determinant of
everything from the drinkability of our water, the air we breathe,
the land we use to grow food, to the green-space around
us (2). Much of the research surrounding the natural
environment focuses on the importance of conservation to ensure
both a healthy natural environment and a healthy population (3).
On the northeast Avalon, regardless of where you are, it's
hard to find yourself more than a 15-minute drive from the ocean or
a wooded trail. So, does this mean we have a healthy natural
The northeast Avalon has seen considerable changes since the
last regional plan in the 1970's and much of the natural
environment is unrecognizable today. We are seeing a dramatic
increase in the amount of urban sprawl encroaching on our water
reserves and natural ecosystems diminishing farmland and green
space. The local Building Healthy Communities Collaborative
recently emphasized this in their report, "Monitoring the Evolution
of a Healthy Built Environment in Newfoundland and Labrador". The
report calls for legislation and land use policies that encourage
densification, limit suburban growth, and address the unique needs
of rural communities (4) . Their report concluded that
neither our health nor the environment can sustain the continuation
of urban sprawl and the burden of infrastructure expansion. Anyone
who's hiked the Sugarloaf path along the East Coast Trail has seen
the remnants of plastic bags firsthand and understands the issue.
Facing similar hurdles, other municipalities within Canada have
begun to take proactive approaches. The
York Region Official Plan, released in April 2016 utilized
their award winning sustainability strategy, Towards a Sustainable
Region as a leading framework for developing, a sustainable natural
environment, healthy communities, and economic vitality (5).
This region faces similar emerging trends to the northeast Avalon,
like an aging society, urbanization, and social health issues like
obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and mental illness. It is clear
that conserving natural environments promotes feelings of
well-being, positive health outcomes, improved quality of life and
liveable neighbourhoods, while offering residents opportunities for
active recreation for healthier lifestyles. All of this can be
accomplished just by conserving natural environments and natural
The proposed northeast Avalon regional plan emphasizes policies
that will increase the "protection of the existing watershed,
identify new water sources, and encourage conservation of water by
municipalities and their residents within the region" (6). A lack
of water became a palpable regional threat when that last gale put
a large portion of the northeast Avalon under water conservation
watch. Similarly, without a healthy natural environment we are
exposed to a multitude of health risks like pollution and
contamination, while being underexposed to things that promote
health, like green space, clean water, clean air and the ability to
be active in unorganized ways.
We have some of the best hiking, walking, landscapes and coastal
regions in the country. Pride of place is strong here and while
we're not all die hard environmentalists, we can all agree that
getting away from the city and smelling that fresh salty air just
triggers something patriotic in all of us. Ensuring a healthy
natural environment includes all of us: residents, community
groups, landowners, businesses, municipalities and varying levels
of government (2).
That's why we need YOU. Sharing how you envision the future of
the northeast Avalon's natural environment is easy. Tweet us
@happycityStjohn's and share a photo of why natural environments
are important in sustaining #healthycities and #healthyregions. You
can also help by filling out the 'Our Northeast Avalon' survey - http://www.ournortheastavalon.com/contribute/.
This is a chance to inform those leading the regional plan
know how you see the future of your home. For us, the future of the
northeast Avalon is full of people getting back in touch with their
history through traditional activities like berry picking, growing
food, and spending endless hours being active in parks, on trails,
and in lively rural communities. What says you?
Feeling out of touch with your natural environment?
Check out the beautiful East Coast Trail http://www.eastcoasttrail.com/en/index.aspx#
Natural Environment - Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador. at
Regional Official Plan - Niagara Region, Ontario. at https://www.niagararegion.ca/living/icp/policy-plan.aspx
Global Climate Change and Public Health. (Humana Press (Springer
Science and Business Media), 2014).
Donovan, C., Krishnan, I., Cotter, CA. Monitoring the Evolution of
a Healthy Built Environment in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Regional Municipality of York Official Plan 2016 Office
Consolidation. (2016). at
About - OUR AVALON. at <http://www.ournortheastavalon.com/about>