Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Andre Picard writes about the devastating effects of widespread social isolation, particularly given its connection to poverty:
All told, it is estimated that about six million Canadians live an isolated existence. We have an epidemic of loneliness, and the principal underlying cause is poverty. If you’re poor, you’re six times more likely to be socially isolated than your peers. In academic circles, and increasingly in political discourse, the term “social determinants of health,” is bandied about. Sir Michael Marmot, the guru of social determinants research, defines them simply as the “causes of the causes of poor health.” What has the greatest impact on our health is not genetics or access to health care, but income, education, housing, food security and our physical environment. But there is one key health determinant that’s often forgotten: a sense of belonging. Being connected — to family, friends, neighbours, a community group, a running club, a mosque — can literally add years to your life.

The corollary is that isolation and loneliness are devastating to a person’s mental and physical health, deadly even. Isolation is, in part, a state of mind, but it is also a physical reality. So we need to ask ourselves how our surroundings, our homes and our cities contribute to the scourge of loneliness. Do we build cities — and adopt urban policies — that encourage social interaction or that breed isolation?
If we want a sense of community, and its benefits, we need to invest in services that encourage independent living, and in public spaces and programs that nurture interaction. Yet, we underfund and devalue places that bring us together like libraries, parks, recreation centres and community gardens. We often make it difficult to volunteer with all kinds of bureaucratic hurdles. Being lonely also has stigma attached to it: it’s often associated with having poor social skills or being odd. We look upon those who are reaching out to make a connection with suspicion. How often have you heard: “How can I meet people?” For most, the answer to that question is not Tinder or Grindr.
Building community takes determined effort. It takes time and money, and a conviction that it matters. It blossoms out of recreational centres, schools, places of worship, volunteer activities and in subtle gestures such as introducing yourself to your neighbours. It comes from reaching out to an old lady wandering the streets late at night, or to a boy in a wheelchair at the park. We often talk about inclusion and being senior-friendly, but what cities tend to offer are grudging accommodations — things like wheelchair ramps and discount bus passes. These gestures do not solve the problems of those who ride the bus all day because they have nothing else to do, or nowhere else to go. If we want people to be healthy — physically, mentally and emotionally — they need to be full citizens. If we want healthy cities, we need people to have a sense of belonging — not just a civic address. We need everyone to be engaged — not just the elite. We need to make a resolute effort to help each other, especially those on the margins of society, move from isolation to inclusion.
- Zack Beauchamp highlights Canada's relative acceptance and encouragement of immigrants and minority groups as being what truly sets us apart among developed countries.

- Andrea Flynn, Dorian Warren, Felicia Wong and Susan Holmberg discuss the need to restructure existing rules, practices and policies to counter entrenched racism and discrimination. Audra Williams points out that we won't achieve more inclusive political representation unless members of more privileged groups "lean out". And Gabrielle Brassard-Lecours comments on a call for an inquiry into systemic racism in Quebec.

- Finally, Megan Leslie points out that it's not too late to preserve our ocean econsystems, but that there's an urgent need to act now. And Andrew Nikiforuk points out the futility of prioritizing pipeline development over sustainable environmental and economic policies.

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