In the 1980’s health and planning were never discussed in the same sentence, seemingly separate silos with no point of intersection. It was “socially infectious early adopters” and leaders such as Dr. John Blatherwick the former Medical Health Officer of Vancouver , and the now retiring Chief Medical Health Officer of British Columbia, Dr. Perry Kendall that pushed those boundaries illustrating that health matters in planning and in just about everything else.
Dr. Blatherwick was one of the early interveners in the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s, and through the media let everyone know exactly how AIDS was spread, and how it could be stopped. He also wrote a groundbreaking City of Vancouver Council report thirty years ago that described the case of 84-year-old Olaf Solheim, a retired logger who died after being evicted from his Patricia Hotel room where he had lived for over 40 years. The Council report explored whether he died of a broken heart, and made the important connection of supporting mental health and the well-being of every resident, and their right to age in place.
Dr. Perry Kendall was another early adopter and served as the Chief Medical Health Officer in Toronto, senior positions in Ontario and British Columbia, and lastly twenty years as Chief Medical Health Officer of British Columbia. Now retiring, Dr. Kendall has maintained that major health challenges such as not exercising, smoking and the targeted advertising of junk foods to children are responsible for 70 per cent of all chronic illness. He also has pointed out that over 75 per cent of food advertising on Canadian television would not pass European guidelines for healthy food advertising.
It was Dr. Kendall that supervised the 2003 opening of Onsite, the first legal injection site in North America, and who also led the recent campaign on the impacts and intervention for Fentanyl overdoses in this province.
Dr. Kendall could never understand the pushback to municipal bike lanes, seeing them as a healthy intervention for users and also decreasing traffic congestion. Concerned about the fact that motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death and injury, Dr. Kendall wrote Where the Rubber Meets the Road , recommending a default of 30 kilometers an hour on all municipal and treaty lands, and a 0.0 blood alcohol tolerance for any driver over 26 years of age. This document is well worth a read and Price Tags Vancouver has written about this report here.
The new B.C. Medical Health Officer is Dr. Bonnie Henry who was the Medical Health Officer for Toronto during the SARS crisis. As Dr. Henry observes it is time to change our relationship with motordom in this province, where vulnerable road users (cyclists and pedestrians) are increasing in fatalities and injuries. “Now we need to switch the focus, and by switching that focus and making the roads safer for all users, we can bring those fatalities down, hopefully to zero. Nobody in B.C. should be dying on our roads.”
Thank you to Dr. Blatherwick and Dr. Kendall for pioneering the intersection between health, planning, and making our places better for everyone. To Dr. Henry, thank you for continuing the synergistic work of health and planning and making every citizen’s journey a more educated and healthier one.