Healthy Communities – Now or Never

Our province is slowly dying. What else to conclude from the terrible stats from the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia:

  • One in ten high school students surveyed had attempted suicide
  • Almost one in three teens is overweight or obese
  • Only half of grade eight students met math expectations
  • 18% of young adults are unemployed
  • Nova Scotia students have the highest debt load in the country
  • One in five kids often doesn’t get enough to eat

There are five stages of grief. The first two are denial and anger. Count me in the angry stage right now. I’ve been happy to believe that Nova Scotia just had some economic problems. We might not be rich, but hey, we’ve got a hell of a place to live, right?

Wrong. This is a shitty place for young people. Not enough food. Poor schools. Crap jobs (if they’ve got one). Poor health. Depression. The only thing there’s a lot of is debt. Is it any wonder people are leaving?

So let’s cut the bullshit and move from denial to anger, because make no mistake if we don’t change soon this province will die. This is clearly bigger than a hollowed out economy. The people who stay behind or are left behind are headed to a future with too much poverty, too few services and too little happiness. We’re creating a place where people don’t want to live.

Here’s the main thing, though. Moving on to anger isn’t merely about raging for a bit and forgetting about it. It’s about identifying who’s responsible for this mess and who needs to fix it.

You and me. That’s who got us here. We’ve gotten used to blaming someone else (denial) or waiting for someone else to fix it (more denial). No jobs – government’s problem. Bad schools – teacher’s fault. Depression – don’t we have psychiatrists?

Let’s pull back and look at the big picture. We have created a society where people don’t connect with each other and don’t pull together when needed. We have created a society awash in cheap plastic from China, yet lacking healthy food for kids. We have created a society that gleefully off-shores jobs and services to make a quick buck. We made a society happy to fight over table scraps from multinationals instead of building companies for ourselves. We made a society that is crude, cheap, crass and selfish. And it’s making our kids miserable, broke and fat.

No, you say, I didn’t do anything. Exactly. Do you vote? Lots of us don’t. Do you volunteer or give to charity? Most of us don’t. Do you support local businesses? Did your company hire a young person? Did you look out for your neighbours when times were tough? Did you welcome someone new to your community?

Most of us have to answer no.

I started this blog to talk about public spaces – the places where everyone in a community can gather together. I think this topic is important and misunderstood. I thought I was going to talk about something really important that we just weren’t getting right.

Now I realize it’s time to talk about something much bigger – community, and the lack of it. I still think we’re lacking good public spaces that bring people together, but we’re missing something even bigger. We’re missing community – people coming together to learn, to work, to celebrate, to play, to create, to discuss, to mourn, to support.

Maritimers have always prided themselves on having strong communities. That may have been the case, but it’s not anymore. Would a strong, healthy community leave it’s young people floundering?

This is a problem that’s too big for any one person or group to tackle. Government’s been failing for decades. It’s time for us to rebuild communities from the ground up. Nothing less will get Nova Scotia back on track. We have to make healthy communities happen, and we have to do it now.

About the author

Sean Gillis

Sean is a professional urban planner. He's interested in how cities work to connect people and ideas. Sean's passionate about transportation, design and public spaces. He works for Halifax Regional Municipality. The opinions in his posts are his own.