Taking Health for Granted

[This is part three of a series reevaluating some propositions that I perceived as crucial and important in my early thirties.]

Proposition: Health — while prob­a­bly the easiest thing to take for granted — is the most frag­ile gift I will ever have. It is the ful­crum upon which every­thing else balances–I will respect and nur­ture it as such. To seek health is to seek life. They are synonymous.

Several years on, I want to think I have a somewhat more nuanced idea of health than I did when I wrote the above paragraph. In the intervening years, I’ve wrestled more with the adaptive nature of well-being and the psychological, social, and experiential episodes that frame how we define ‘health’ in a physical sense. Today, I find myself increasingly curious about ‘health’ as a political and corporate narrative, too.

It is easy, perhaps too easy, to define health as the absence of disease and disease as the absence of health. I am now less inclined to describe health in such choice-oriented, individualistic terms than I did in my thirties. Health is a much more complicated concept now. It is something that somehow involves us, not just me alone.

While I would revise the wording and some aspects of my original statement, I am nonetheless acutely aware that health is, for all its complexities, precious. On the morning I feel better after a bout of fever or flu, the first thought I have is: Why don’t I intentionally celebrate health every morning I wake up without feeling sick with every ounce of fanfare I can muster? Health is remarkably easy to take for granted, but maybe some of the ideas we have about health continue to mature with age.

We are the enviroment

[This is part two of a series reevaluating some propositions that I perceived as crucial and important in my early thirties.]

Proposition: I can­not save the envi­ron­ment; I am the envi­ron­ment.

I wrote the above back in 2010, directly influenced by this TED talk by John Francis:

I had studied environment at this formal level, but there as also this informal level. As I learned about this informal level, I also learned about people — about what we do and how we are. And ‘environment’ changed from just being about trees, birds, and endangered species, to being about how treat each other. Because if we are the environment, all we need to do is look around us and see we are treating ourselves and how we treat each other. (John Francis, Walk the earth … my 17-year vow of silence)

This thought experiment still haunts me. Ready? Visualize any ecological crisis or degradation — from oil spills to climate change, from pollution to fisheries — and ask: how is this situation related to the way humans treat one another?

From this vantage point, it suddenly seems that human-to-human relationships are not distinct phenomena in the world, as if unrelated to the ecology in which they transpire. The environments we live in — and the vitality of the ecology we depend on — is ultimately the sum equation of how we treat each other.

We are the environment.

A Story Behind Every Street

Question: What are your favorite streets or public spaces in your city?

Behind every street and public space there is a story. A long story. How was the zoning approved? Which developer won the contract? What are the health and safety implications? How has the history and heritage of the space been preserved, modified, erased, or retold over time? How has the built environment affected the surrounding ecology? What mode of transportation is most favored by the design of the street — and who, as a consequence, does the street ultimately serve and prioritize first?

Does the street ‘fit’ into the kind of city where people would want to move?

And this is only the beginning… how do internal city politics between the Planning, Development Services, and Engineering departments work? How informed and involved are elected officials in the outcome of the street project?

Everything about every street is the result of human decisions. Who makes these decisions? Who holds these people accountable? How can we be a city with an urban design that works for everyone — both today and into the future?

The Panel

Shawn Adamsson (@late2game) is a local force of nature when it comes to civic engagement. He was a principle architect of the Pints & Politics series run by the Urban League.

Sara Bellaire is a Professor in the Bachelor of Environmental Design & Planning and Landscape Design programs at Fanshawe College. Her projects focus on blending the ecological and cultural attributes for creating sustainable design solutions.

John Fleming (@jmfplan) is the Managing Director of Planning and City Planner for London, Canada.