Getting unstuck | A Q&A with Jayne Engle

Now is the time for imagination, courage and strength to act boldly for the planet and for present and future generations.

Nisa Drozdowski - 10 October 2019

Jayne Engle leads City Initiatives at the McConnell Foundation, including Cities for People, which encourages and invests in inclusive civic innovation. She has a background in urban planning, policy and design, and a passion for community action that fosters the freedom and flourishing of people.

The School of Public Health will welcome Jayne Engle for the 2019 Douglas R. Wilson Lecture to present her vision for healthy communities.

We spoke to Engle about the issues facing our communities and how to transform them so we can flourish.

What is a healthy community?
A healthy community is a place where people and nature have the right to flourish. Everyone's basic needs for education, housing, a healthy body and mind, and social connections, for example, are met. Individuals have equitable access to resources to meet those needs. Equality between citizens, including decreasing income and wealth disparity, is also important. In a healthy community, people have agency to collaborate and co-create a better society for themselves.

What are the issues we need to address in our communities to make them places where we can flourish?

The changing climate is a major crisis, and it's manifesting globally with extreme events such as flooding and heat waves, affecting the lives and security of people. We need to be better stewards of our environment, which will mean recognizing the rights of nature.

Access to housing is becoming a major challenge we face in Canada. It's hard to deal with other societal issues when basic needs like access to affordable housing are in crisis.

Then, there is also a diminishing sense of trust in government, institutions, in private companies-especially Big Tech-and even between each other.

What are the barriers we face in overcoming these crises?

To transform our communities, we need to increase our collective consciousness, or awareness, of the crises and barriers we face. We also need collective coordination to overcome them.

I truly believe most of us have the will to contribute to transforming our society to do good. However, it's difficult for an individual to see how changing their own behaviour can make a radical difference. We need to know everyone else is doing it, too. Collective coordination is an immense challenge.

As a society, we seem to lack the imagination to see a future that is very different from the way we now live. Without a vastly different idea of our future, we can't overcome these crises to make real change.

What should we do to make change?

Incorporating Indigenous ways of governing, knowing and being into our decision and policy making is important. With a focus on environmental stewardship and future generations, it can make a difference.

We should support community development at the local level in ways that invite people to engage directly and co-produce with others, such as through collective gardening and cooking food, bike and tool sharing, improving public spaces, caring for civic assets likes libraries, for example. This kind of collaboration builds resilience and inclusivity in everyday life, and it also strengthens capabilities at the neighbourhood level to solve problems when disaster strikes.

Improving our communities with systems, resources and infrastructure that support health and well-being is not a partisan issue. It requires the best from all of us-that we rise to the challenges as individuals and organizations from all sectors-in order to solve our challenges.

You've said that on the eve of the 2020s, we are well poised to transform our communities. Why now?

There is increasing awareness and knowledge of the state and extent of the crises people face around the globe. It is real and we see it. There is widespread agreement we need structural change to make our world better. It will require major shifts in relationships and difficult societal choices. We'll need to change our expectations of large corporations, big tech monopoly platforms, and major landowners. We have tools such as the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals that provide a framework for what needs to be done and can be achieved by 2030. And one of our greatest opportunities is to learn from and apply Indigenous wisdom and to make reconciliation manifest in our communities.

Now is the time for imagination, courage and strength to act boldly for the planet and for present and future generations.