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Through the research conducted for this toolkit, the following thirteen key mehcanisms for action in rural municipalities were revealed: 

Why are community design/ land use planning important?

  • They help to build robust communities by managing and directing land use to achieve healthy, liveable and safe communities. 

  • They help to create communities as good places to live, work, learn and play in close proximity to one another. 

  • They promote complete and compact settlements. This is applicable in rural areas where the revitalization of existing towns, villages and hamlets is encouraged. Some communities must deal with populations that 
are even more widely dispersed. These include places where large-scale agriculture, natural regeneration
of poorer agricultural land and recreational properties compose substantial amounts of land. Complete and connected communities located in these areas need other creative responses – for example, high speed internet connectivity and the provision of secondary road or waterway networks (MMAH, 2014). 

  • The creation of community design guidelines clarify the meaning of general official plan policies and put these policies into practice for new development in a community. 


Action 1: Community Design and Land Use Planning

Community Design 1

City of Kawartha Lakes: Case Study

  • The City of Kawartha Lakes has recently developed a variety of land-use planning documents that focus on creating active and healthy rural communities.

  • Activating Kawartha Lakes was an on the ground initiative where the community was invited to take part of walking audits with a walkability consultant to build on the policy work completed to date. These walks and the resulting photo visions of specific sites proved to be successful and provided inspiration for the implementation of more walkable and active design elements in the community.

Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Ensure that your official plan includes policies related to healthy communities.                         Specific examples include active transportation, air quality, walkability and parks and recreation facilities, among others. Use the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement to help inform policies in your official plan, as it is a tool that promotes health and wellness
in all communities.

  • Develop appropriate community design guidelines that can assist in implementing the Official Plan and reflect unique community conditions and characteristics. These guidelines can help to ensure that development and retrofitted development achieve broader healthy community actions. 

  • Tips from practitioners: 

    • Consider using resources such as the Region of Peel Health Assessment Tool, which identifies the public health impact of built environments. The tool has the goals of developing healthier communities and increasing the walkability of neighbourhoods in order to encourage active living. Please see: Region of Peel Health Assessment Tool 

Why is active transportation (AT) important?

  • It provides the opportunity for physical activity when travelling                                                                 for both daily needs and recreational purposes. • Active transportation                                                    has the ability to provide many co-benefits such as tourism, economic                                       development and social equity, allowing all members of the community to                                   potentially use the facilities.

  • While sidewalks and bike lanes may not be feasible in many dispersed rural land areas, other opportunities such as wide paved shoulders may be useful for biking. While commuting by bike is seldom feasible, many rural residents enjoy the recreational aspects of cycling and walking. Therefore, it is important to encourage AT in rural areas. Often there are many trail network resources available in a rural setting, i.e. low traffic secondary roads, former rail beds etc.

  • AT can also realize the goals of reducing local air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, and provide climate protection (CIP, 2012). 


Action 2: Active Transporation

Active Transporation 2

Town of Haliburton: Case Study

  • Haliburton and other communities have widened shoulders on county roads; some jurisdictions have also done this on provincial highways in order to accommodate bicycles.

  • AT initiatives have been successful in Haliburton due to community-based research; community forums; advocates for supportive policies, education and awareness activities and the development of planning documents

  • AT initiatives are focused in the Villages of Haliburton and Minden

  • The AT projects were focused on the villages in order to make implementation more manageable and achievable.

Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Work to ensure that you have an active transportation (AT) plan that considers broad county-and region- wide initiatives and connections between municipalities and communities as well as infrastructure improvements such as wider road shoulders or bike lanes. * Link

  • It is important to develop an AT strategy at the lower-tier municipal level. Ensure that the strategy is appropriate for the size of your community. See for example:

  • Tips from practitioners:

    • Engage a committee or community-based group that is passionate about AT.

    • Focus on something manageable, such as working within one area of a community to start.

    • Promote the relationship between AT, economic development, cultural planning and health outcomes (physical activity, air quality and injury prevention). Recognizing these co-benefits can help encourage 
funding and implementation.

    • Seek out opportunities for trail development that has desired destination locales 
and that can provide an interconnected network of linking facilities. Consider the use of various resources, including abandoned rail lines, crown land/public land holdings, utility corridors, road allowances etc. 

    • Integrate AT into other planning actions that a municipality may be interested in, e.g. transportation planning, parks and recreation plans, downtown revitalization plans etc. 

    • Apply for Bike and/or Walk Friendly Communities designation. Link  


Community Engagement 3

Action 3: Community Engagement and Capacity Buidling

Why are community engagement and capacity building important?

  • The community is an important resource to help achieve mutual goals, and community engagement increases municipal capacity. Municipalities can leverage the expertise and knowledge of community members on a volunteer basis.

  • Community engagement provides the perspectives of citizens, both as individuals and collectively.

  • Engagement and participation are vital in creating effective policy and programs for community health that are inclusive and holistic. 

Huron County: Case Study

  • Jane’s Walk was a community-organized event where residents walked around downtown Goderich and discussed design elements that could improve the community.

  • Jane’s Walk was innovative for a rural community because it originated as an urban idea and was implemented in a rural downtown area.

  • Jane Jacobs, an urbanist who helped to protect neighborhoods in Toronto and New York, provided inspiration for the walks, which are held around the world. Jane was an activity for people people and wrote about how cities can function as spaces for people. 

Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Use creative ways to engage the public in the planning process in addition to the Planning Act requirements. As an example, Haldimand County hired a skateboard professional to give credibility and information on public spaces for youth.

  • Leverage non-traditional organizations as partners involved with public health, recreation, engineering, business and youth.

  • Seek additional funding and foster public and private partnerships.

  • Tips from practitioners:

    • Develop safe spaces where people can engage with each other.

    • Build council support through education and awareness. This helps new projects acquire public funding and encourages fundraising and private donations.

    • Engage champions for projects – a dedicated individual who is willing to see a prject through contributes significantly to a positive outcome.

    • Employ creative approaches to encourage citizen engagement which could include informal public gathering mechanisms, such as coffee shop setting and design charettes.

    • Use social media to connect with a wide range of citizens. Social media tools can include: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. 


Water Quality 4

Why is water quality important?

  • Water provides economic and social benefits and is the basis for healthy                                        and diverse ecosystems and communities. Water is used by humans for                           consumption and by industry to support our economy. It also supports ecological processes including aquatic life and aquatic ecosystems (MMAH, 2014).

  • In rural areas, sources of drinking water can come from surface water features or groundwater aquifers, and these sources are vulnerable to contamination or depletion. Drinking-water wells and intakes serve individual homes, clusters of homes and rural settlement areas.

  • Healthy shorelines provide a range of social, economic and environmental benefits. They help to control surface run-off and erosion and filter associated nutrients and harmful pollutants, therefore protecting water quality. Healthy shorelines also help regulate temperature and microclimate, screen noise and wind, preserve the aesthetic appeal of the landscape and provide many other cultural, social and economic benefits through recreation and tourism (MMAH, 2014). 

Action 4: Water Quality

Sioux Narrows-Nester Falls: Case Study

  • The community of Sioux Narrows-Nester Falls is a small northern community that began implementing new zoning by-laws, never used before in their municipality, in order to maintain and improve water quality.

  • Sioux Narrows-Nester Falls added policies to their official plan relating to shoreline protection. A new implementing zoning by-law has established a minimum setback from shorelines for new development. 

Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Work with the conservation authority if it exists for your region to ensure that your source water protection plan is being properly incorporated. Efforts to support clean drinking water supplies through source water protection planning and other mechanisms (e.g. mandatory septic system re-inspection by-laws) are important. Link

  • Work with the conservation authority to ensure that planning efforts can incorporate a focus on watersheds/sub-watersheds. This can contribute to an ecologically-focused approach to protecting water resources and other natural features.

  • For existing brownfields (such as abandoned heavy industrial sites), ensures that your community has considered various mechanisms to have these sites cleaned up. The federation of Canadian Municipalities has a large number of resources to aid with this. Link

  • Work with your health unit and building permit staff to ensure that you are following best practices related to public and private sewage treatment. As an example, Huron County has started a septic system maintenance program.

  • A number of municipalities have developed lake plans. These are created to protect the water quality of lakes and assess lake impacts and carrying capacity.


Air Quality 5

Action 5: Air Quality

Why is air quality important?

  • The quality of air affects all citizens living in a community.

  • Air pollution has become increasingly evident in municipalities across Canada (MOE, 2007).

  • Children, seniors and those with existing heart and lung conditions (like asthma) are particularly at risk due to exposure to air pollution.


Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Develop official plan policies that encourage the reduction of air pollution through changes in the built environment. This could include the requirements of adequate separation distances between major traffic corridors and industrial sources of air pollutants and sensitive land uses such as residential areas, daycare centers and schools. Another measure is to encourage new developments that support walking and cycling or the retrofit of existing developments to include paths and trails that may be used by pedestrians or cyclists.

  • Ensure the creation of an anti-idling by-law in your municipality in order to directly reduce air pollution. For example, please see:

  • Ensure the development of an open air burning by-law in your municipality in order to further reduce air pollution. Open air burning is an important rural issue that impacts human health. 



Tourism 6

Why is tourism important?

  • In many rural areas tourism-based businesses and services are an                                           important sector of the economy.

  • Tourism has the ability to improve the quality of life and well-being of                                       residents and visitors. It can enhance the use of a community’s natural                                       assets, character and cultural attributes. 


Action 6: Tourism

Halton Region: Case Study

  • Halton Region has an Agricultural Tourism Strategy, which is being led by the Economic Development Department.

  • Part of the Halton Region’s Economic Development vision includes collaborating with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture’s Regional Tourism 


Recommendations for rural communities

  • Consider developing a tourism strategy or bring the focus to tourism through community economic development. A tourism strategy can help to identify, build and develop infrastructure that will support the tourism sector wile also providing infrastructure and resources that will improve quality of life of residents.

  • Tips for practitioners:

    • Come up with creative ways to acquire the necessary funds; these could include writing funding proposals and applying for grants

    • Build a coalition with the business community and council.

    • Break a project down into manageable pieces


Special Age Groups 7

Action 7: Planning for Special Age Groups

Why is planning for special age groups important?

  • Rural communities have larger proportions of aging populations when compared to larger urban centres.

  • Transportation access is consistently identified as a major barrier in studies on the impacts of an aging demographics (OPPI, 2009).

  • Two of the issues which currently face many rural communities are out-migration of youth an aging population.  


Township of Prince: Case Study

  • The township of Prince has created a 2013-2018 Accessibility Plan. The plan includes extending bus services from Sault St. Marie into the township, and Prince Township has an arrangement with the city for a bus to come to the corner of two highways.

  • A co-op program funded by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Association is a key item that has provided the municipality with funding for their Strategic Plan and Accessibility Plan.



Agriculture 8

Action 8: Agriculture

Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Ensure your planning initiatives bring a focus to the needs of an aging population. The requirements and needs in aging populations will be unique in terms of accessibility, services and transportation issues. The County of Brant & City of Brantford have developed a Master Aging Plan for the comprehensive needs of an aging community.

  • Ensure that your planning documents have consideration for youth, such as the inclusion of skateboard parks, arenas and sports fields, among other activities.

  • Develop a youth retention strategy. Provide opportunities for education and employment. Take a community economic development approach and seek out opportunities that could exist for youth in your community.

  • Tips from practitioners:

    • Use other communities as inspiration; the Town of Hanover is taking on a youth initiative based on the existing one in Ingersoll. 


Why are agriculture and agricultural practices important?

  • Agriculture is important to many rural economies. Permitting                                             diversification on-farm, providing more exibility and protecting agricultural                                 uses and normal farm practices can encourage and protect sustainable farms                            and farmers (MMAH, 2014).

  • Agriculture also provides a source of fresh food and employment opportunities and more directly connects consumers with the food that they eat.

  • Agriculture is fundamentally connected to soil, air and water, and proper agricultural practices can contribute positively to each of these attributes.


Township of Scugog: Case Study

  • The Township of Scugog has a comprehensive zoning by-law that allows home occupations and home industries.

  • These industries are meant to serve the surrounding farm community and could include: small welding shops, woodworking businesses and bed and breakfasts as well as other home occupations.

  • These home industries are considered small business incubators, which could move into larger employment areas in the future.

Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Protect agricultural land, as it has significant environmental, economic and social benefits. Agricultural industry will only survive where the land exists for farming. Many communities are benefiting from near urban agriculture with the local food sector.  

  • Encourage stewardship and healthy environmental practices on agricultural lands, as there is a fundamental connection to water and air quality. Many farmers have benefitted from the Environmental Farm Plan.

  • Support the local farm community through groups such as Agricultural Advisory Committees.

  • Tips from practitioners:

    • Ensure plans and strategies are in place; this allows for initiatives to be implemented when funds become available.

    • Encourage a healthier economy, which will result in a healthier population.

    • Focus on promoting agricultural businesses and food production businesses. 



Cultural Strategies 9

Action 9: Cultural Strategies and Revitalization

Why are cultural strategies and revitalization important?

  • Cultural strategies and revitalization have the ability to contribute to improvements to the social fabric of communities and human health and well-being as well as the sustainability of a space.

  • They can build and maintain public places that foster community and social development.

  • The recognition of history and importance of place can be tied into historic preservation initiatives. 


Bruce County: Case Study

  • The County of Bruce has established ‘Spruce the Bruce’, which is a downtown improvement program. The program focuses on revitalizing and redefining the identity of individual downtown centres; it also provides organizational support and grants. Spruce the Bruce helps to enhance the built form of communities through restoration and design and also helps individual towns by developing a new community vision. 


Local Food 10

Action 10: Access to Local Food

Recommendations for rural municipalities

  • Recognize the important of built heritage resources such as downtowns and villages. Many municipalities have been successful with this through community improvement plans, business important associations and local fundraising. This gives rural downtown the opportunity to become a vibrant and healthy economic development areas.

  • Promote local events and festivals. The arts contribute to community well-being, volunteering and economic opportunities and have shown to improve the health of residents. This could include promoting local theatre, local arts and craft festivals and downtown activities such as outdoor markets.

  • Tips from practitioners:

    • Identify what makes your community unique and build on this.

    • Discover initiatives that citizens will get excited about and support.

    • Downtowns and cultural events have a connection to community economic development, tourism, employment and services. 


Why is access to local food important?

  • The major food-related issues in rural areas are different from those                                               in urban areas given the low population, density, lengthier distances                                             between retailers and rapid rise of super centres and their effect on                                          other food retailers.

  • Some barriers that exist to purchasing local food include perceptions                                           that it is unavailable, consumer inability to identify it and acceptance of                                preserved foods in the off-season.

  • Currently, communities across Canada are working together on developing grassroots solutions to food security and local food availability. Community supported agriculture and farmers’ markets have been considered a viable option to provide a source of fresh, affordable and culturally appropriate food to those who would not otherwise have access. 


Haliburton County: Case Study

  • Haliburton County has over 20 food security initiatives addressing the three stages of food security: short term relief, individual or community capacity building and system change. Each food security initiative operates within a specific agency’s mandate but values the richness of networking and being a partner of the Halburton County FoodNet, a community food security networking group. FoodNet partners meet on an ongoing basis to share successes and challenges. Partners collaborate around raising awareness, funding opportunities, sharing resources, transportation challenges, research and advocacy. Over the past few years, this group has been working on increasing access of fresh and local food to residents in need.


Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Support the consumption and production of local food. Municipalities can do this by protecting farmland, supporting farmers’ markets and by supporting activities as on-farm sales.

  • Recognize that local food is an economic opportunity and also provides health benefits. Local food production should be supported as well as opportunities for farmers to connect with customers.

  • Implement by-laws that protect spaces for community supported agriculture, community gardens and agricultural land for food growing and production and provide better opportunities for local food processing and sale. 



Nature 11

Action 11: Nature

Why is nature important?

  • To assure the prolonged existence of natural heritage and resources, residents must protect and preserve the natural environment. This can be accomplished through stewardship of the land, air and water. Sustainable spaces help communities build an environmental ethic by providing everyday opportunities for people to connect with nature.

  • In addition, a community with nature present at a variety of levels contributes to the spirit of a place. The availability of green space is associated with increased levels of community social capital, and exposure to nature reduces individuals stress levels, anger and anxiety and replaces these with feelings of pleasure (CIP, 2012).


Town of Orangeville: Case Study

  • Since 2007, the Town of Orangeville has had a ‘Sustainability Action Team’ comprised of community political leaders and town staff, interested citizens and business personnel. The committee is driven by actions that include: tree planting, community garden establishment, information sharing via an online stewardship guidebook, community festivities (Earth week, school events) and giving stewardship awards. 


Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Acknowledge, use and manage natural heritage resources for their important environmental, economic and social benefits to the rural community. Examine opportunities for partnerships with environmental organizations (e.g. Carolinian Canada) that can leverage local natural assets to larger goals and aspirations. Local tourism and economic development benefits can be matched with issues of biodiversity protection/enhancement and climate change adaption/mitigation.

  • Provide stewardship and voluntary approaches to natural areas and preservation.

  • Become familiar with approaches to environmental innovation and planning.



Housing 12

Action 12: Safe and Affordable Housing

Why is safe and affordable housing important?

  • Decent places to live that are affordable and appropriate are a basic                                        human need. Communities need to consider healthy and safe equity                                       issues between those that have more and those that have less. The                                         provision of safe and affordable housing to house less fortunate                                            individuals and families is an important consideration of local and                                          provincial government in Ontario. This is especially important as Canadians                            spend on average 90% of their times indoors.

  • The provision of safe and affordable housing and special needs housing is something that rural community leaders need to be mindful of. 


Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Municipalities need to recognize the importance of the topic. Work with people who are knowledgeable about the topic and lobby for new affordable housing.

  • Attempt to maintain existing built facilities that can be readily adapted to housing – the most affordable unit that can be constructed is usually found in a space that already stands. Secondary suites in houses are useful for this as well as the repurposing of older non-functioning commercial spaces and upper floors on main streets of rural towns and villages.

  • From a land use perspective, municipalities can assist by providing modest forms of housing in rural contexts through conversion of retrofit, and intensification mechanisms. These include demonstration projects that show local employment, spin-off community benefits and cost effectiveness of repair versus building new. 



Climate Change 13

Action 13: Climate Change

Why is climate change important?

  • It is now well recognized that climate change affects rural economies, the built environment and the natural environment. These impacts are hard to predict, but all facets of life will be affected. It is anticipated that both long-term and short-term alterations to land, air and water conditions will occur.

  • The severity of storm events, including extreme heat events, is one of the most immediate impacts to rural areas that require consideration. Depending on location, these events can result in wind and water damage impacts. Various increased hazards to property damage and human injury and loss of life can occur associated with tornadoes, ice storms, flooding and wild fires.

  • Climate change is a big picture issue; however, local rural community leaders can assist in acting locally to mitigate and adapt to climate change conditions. 


Recommendations for rural municipalities:

  • Acknowledge the concern for climate change through commentary and local action. Ensure that your official plan has policies related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

  • Consider the development of a special purpose plan that considers climate change, sustainability and energy plans. This type of initiative provides potential for a more focused approach to have communities respond to climate change.

  • Consider undertaking community initiatives that involve greenhouse gas emissions reduction, sustainable neighborhood plans and brownfield remediation and redevelopment. 


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