Building Healthy, Equitable Communities – Tackling “Glacially Dynamic” Change

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Oct 14, 2018
by Oscar Tollast
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Building Healthy, Equitable Communities – Tackling “Glacially Dynamic” Change

Participants discuss how professionals can leverage trends and opportunities in urban and rural revitalizations with investments in infrastructure focusing on health, equity, and the public good During the session, one participant suggested culture was “glacially dynamic” and changes so slowly we hardly recognize it

We already know what we need to do; we just don’t know how to do it. This was one of the opening statements which started the second day of the Salzburg Global Seminar program, Building Healthy, Equitable Communities: The Role of Inclusive Urban Development and Investment.

Participants were asked to consider how professionals could leverage trends and opportunities in urban and rural revitalizations with investments in infrastructure to focus on health, equity, and the public good.

To assist them with their thinking, panelists heard from professionals with experience of working in different parts of the world. One panelist discussed how she and her colleagues had undertaken research from a position of trust - not expertise. A better analysis can be carried out if people are listened to, and the information is accessible.

Useful research can lead to change, but we might have to manage our expectations when considering a timeline. A fellow panelist suggested culture was “glacially dynamic.”  It changes so slowly we hardly recognize it. If we want change to occur, we need actors, but we need to ask ourselves whether we are leveraging opportunities in spite of that culture or to change that culture. This panelist suggested agency required an understanding of the landscape. What works is when we are able to translate ideas and understand what is possible in different contexts.

Another participant spoke about his experience planning with communities. He agreed it was important, but it remains a “real challenge” as there is rarely one single community to work with. He identified stagnation and decline in rural areas in the United States and how a lot of the ideas designed to build healthy, equitable places were too urban-focused.

The final panelist spoke about her love of trends. In the past 15 years, the movement into urban environments has been “unbelievable,” and the next movement is going to be even bigger. We need to provide healthy environments that aren’t harming people. We can design cities, but it is taking place on too small a scale.

Citizens have to feel empowered to engage with small schemes. A sense of purpose and responsibility has to be facilitated within communities. How to achieve that on a mass scale, however, is not an easy question to answer.

We are on a journey toward equity, but this is path is complex. It is important to recognize and talk about the history of the places in which we live and articulate equity at the highest levels. One participant mused it could be time to consider a different language or process where we can co-create equity together.  


The program Building Healthy, Equitable Communities: The Role of Inclusive Urban Development and Investment is part of Salzburg Global Seminar's multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation. This year's program is held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the program. Follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.