Recent studies provide triple threat for regional planning

·6 min read

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him,” advises Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Although councils for the MD and Town of Pincher Creek may not encounter challenges like fire-breathing dragons, the wisdom is still applicable: when making plans for the future, it’s important to account for current strengths and challenges so action can be taken for desired outcomes.

To that end, three virtual presentations were recently held showcasing studies and surveys completed this past year. The information will help guide local municipal governments in the region as they consider public input and plan future actions for issues tied to the community’s social, health, and recreation needs.

Social

Nichols Applied Management was contracted to perform a social needs assessment for the Pincher Creek region. The assessment was an overview of the region’s social landscape, as collected through surveys and interviews with community members, and was presented to the community virtually back on Feb. 26.

The study, said consultant Tracy Apoll, helps identify community strengths and issues, as well as providing data specific to the area and feedback from relevant stakeholders.

Respondents to the study said excellent health-care facilities and staff were a strength of the region, as well as the diversity and quality of school choices, access to child care, natural surroundings and feelings of familiarity and safety associated with small-town living.

Likewise, challenges associated with rural living, including availability of affordable housing and isolation or loneliness were also listed as concerns by respondents. Racism, health issues in the population and poverty were also listed as challenges facing the area.

Isolation was acknowledged as an issue for senior citizens, but the majority of respondents expressed concern for social well-being of young men.

“Particularly, it came out as youth who aren’t interested in some of the mainstream activities,” Ms. Apoll said. With limited options, many talked about coming home after school and just sitting in their room playing video games.

In light of the pandemic, strategies to improve mental health across all demographics were viewed as a top priority.

The trick, said Ms. Apoll, was envisioning what the future community would be like and not just bull-rushing through action items. Establishing strategies to achieve measurable outcomes along with a performance measurement framework would help provide direction.

“What is the change that we want to see? It’s not just about what we’re going to do,” she said.

The full report can be read online at http://bit.ly/PC-socialneeds. To receive a paper copy, please contact FCSS at 403-627-3156.

Health

Significant carry-over from the social needs assessment existed in the study completed by Alberta Health Services. Much of the review was completed by Gabrielle Kirk, a master of public health candidate from the University of Saskatchewan.

Stacy Donahue, a health promotion specialist with AHS, supervised the project and also presented the final report on Feb. 26.

Mental health again figured as the dominant concern among survey respondents, with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation noted as the most common issues.

Decreasing mental health was also linked to concerns with substance abuse, the most common being methamphetamines, opioids and alcohol.

Food insecurity and sedentary behaviour were seen as the main contributors to chronic health issues like diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Income was seen to have a direct impact on these conditions, the report stated, because individuals with higher incomes are able to purchase healthier food and can afford to take time to exercise.

The report described health disparities between First Nations and aboriginal groups when compared to the general public. The discrepancy, the report stated, comes from social and historical circumstances that have disproportionately affected disease patterns.

Cultural differences also make navigating different systems of health services harder for First Nations than other groups.

Seven priority areas for action were identified, No. 1 being the need to better support mental health and addictions prevention and treatment.

Enhancing public awareness of programming and services was also listed as an important way to promote and support health, along with the community needing to address the lack of cultural understanding in the area.

Some of the pieces needed to address these problems, said Ms. Donahue, were already in place, such as strong municipal leadership, the excellent services available at the Pincher Creek Health Centre and Piikani Nation health services, and the region’s recreation department.

“People felt these were really a strong base on which people could fall back on within the community,” she said.

The full report can be found online at http://bit.ly/PC_health.

Recreation

Two public engagement sessions were held March 4 to go over the draft document of the regional recreation master plan.

Conducted by Expedition Management Consulting, the draft master plan summarizes survey responses from 627 residents.

“The vision is really around creating these assets to leverage attraction of residents, particularly younger folks and the retention of those folks in Pincher Creek and region,” said Justin Rousseau, managing director for Expedition.

“Recreation, parks and culture certainly are a big part of why people choose to live in your region, and so further investment allows for that link.”

The plan describes 50 action items through four categories: indoor facilities and programming, outdoor facilities and programming, tourism linkages, and service delivery.

The top three facility priorities identified by community members were expanding and enhancing the trail system, upgrading the arena and, as a tie for third place, upgrading existing outdoor facilities and developing a new curling rink.

Forty-five per cent of respondents indicated the trail system should be developed to create a co-ordinated system, including trails for walking, hiking, skiing and biking. The report also indicated the MD could potentially develop a network of trails connecting municipalities and recreation areas.

Community members also identified the most important operational priorities the region should focus on. The top three were scheduling facilities and programs according to community need, emphasizing recreation as a competitive advantage, and hiring a community development and program officer.

“We heard a lot about program scheduling and hours of operation not fully aligning with the community needs,” Mr. Rousseau said, adding that more programming and more support for organizations that run programs should be considered.

Nearly a third of respondents (32 per cent) stated scheduling was the biggest barrier to participation in recreation; 23 per cent stated the programs they want to participate in are not offered.

Specifically, educational programming like first aid and babysitting were requested, along with more arts and cultural activities such as a dance program.

A condensed version of the draft recreation master plan can be viewed online at http://bit.ly/short_MP, while the full document is available at http://bit.ly/full_MP.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze