Author’s Note: The following story was written by Melissa as part of her ongoing “Women in Urbanism” series, in order to shine a light on the dedicated and talented women shaping Metro Vancouver for the better. Do you know of someone who deserves to be profiled in a future segment? Please send them our direction.
As a parent, getting involved with your child’s school comes from a desire to know more about what the school community is doing around fundraising, events, and academics. It is generally as much public service as one can commit to in their otherwise busy lives, and tends not to lead to stepping onto the political stage.
However, for Linda Buchanan, two-term Councillor, Public Health Nurse, and lifelong resident of the City of North Vancouver, it was that initial interest in the school of her four children that set her on an unexpected path, nearly 10 years ago.
In 2006, Buchanan attended a Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting at her children’s school, Ridgeway Elementary, where it was announced that the school would be replaced with a new building. Built in 1912, Ridgeway was due for seismic upgrading as part of the capital plan, but it had been determined that a revitalization of the current building was more costly than constructing a brand new structure.
Buchanan, along with another mother in the community, couldn’t believe the shortsightedness of the plan. “We actually left that meeting and headed straight to City Hall to speak on behalf of the community to save the school,” she recalls vividly.
From that evening on, Buchanan set to work advocating for the value of heritage buildings and public education, and, as a result, co-founded the Ridgeway Heritage Committee. Through that organization, she worked closely with the School District, City Hall, and local community to find a resolution that worked for everyone.
“It was important to support the community to move forward, and give them a voice to speak about why the school was so important,” says Buchanan. After a lot of hard work, a forum attracting 300 members of the community, and countless meetings; Buchanan, her co-founder (that mother from the initial meeting), two passionate teachers, and the community-at-large helped to sway the decision, saving Ridgeway.
“After all these years, I’m still pretty passionate about this project and proud of the outcome,” suggests Buchanan. While her own kids have since gone off to higher, the legacy of her work is enjoyed by a whole new generation of North Shore children.
At the Ridgeway Heritage Committee, Buchanan experienced the excitement of collaborating closely with her local government, and in 2008 – as Ridgeway received its heritage status – she launched herself into civic politics, successfully running for school trustee. All the while, she continued her full-time job as a public health nurse.
“As a nurse, we spend a lot of time assessing individuals, communities, and systems, so it really was a natural fit for me,” Buchanan admits. Drawing from her career in public health, Buchanan has used her time in office – first as a school trustee and since as two terms as a Councillor – to focus on the social determinants that have an impact on our wellbeing, and use that knowledge to create healthy communities.
Part of that perspective has meant bringing her experience as a mother to the council chambers. “It’s important to be sure the voices of young adults, parents, and especially their children, are being heard, and I think I bring that lens,” she claims. Buchanan feels that in order to build successful cities, we must be supportive of children and families, not only to attract new residents to the city, but to also retain existing ones, to maintain the vibrancy and diversity of our urban environments.
One of Buchanan’s most notable achievements has been around improving the mobility options in the City of North Vancouver, particularly for children. During her first year as a City Councillor, she attended the Safe Routes to School Conference, bringing back numerous ideas on how make our streets safer places for all users.
“Adults tend to have built lifelong habits that are hard to break. If we can get children building healthy lifestyle habits from a young age, then as they get older that will become the norm,” she proposes.
Drawing from her research, Buchanan and the City Council started creating sidewalk networks that connected neighbourhoods to their schools, redeveloped and enhanced the Pacific Spirit Trail, as well as building on a decades old idea of the Green Necklace – a proposed greenway that encircles the urban centre of the city, and connects to nearly all the schools and recreation centres in North Vancouver.
Buchanan’s efforts to link city building with healthy living have had a lasting effect on how the City of North Vancouver approaches design and infrastructure. She helped implement a memorandum of understanding between the City and District around encouraging and prioritizing safe routes to school, and also created the Charter for Children and Families for the North Shore Congress.
Most recently, she developed the Child, Youth and Family Strategy for the City, which included a number of initiatives like the ‘Kid City’ map – and interactive map just for kids. “I think it’s a fun way to explore the city, and is perfect for those families that may not be able to get away for summer holidays,” she says with pride. The map also includes a number of suggestions for free and low-cost activities, ensuring that it’s accessible to families of all economic means.
“At the end of the day it’s simple: make the healthy choice the easy choice,” she states emphatically. For Buchanan, every decision she makes is influenced by the fact that our physical and emotional health is influenced by the cities in which we live, while ensuring the same priority be given to all citizens, regardless of age.
While Buchanan has used her experience as a parent to shape livable city strategies for the City of North Vancouver, she also recognizes the importance of providing for the ageing population, who currently make up 13% of their population, but will grow rapidly in the coming years. “Where you live and the things around you have a greater impact on your wellbeing than traditional health services,” she asserts.
Looking at cities through a public health leans has allowed Buchanan to make a positive impact on the place she’s called home her entire life. She is proud to have given a voice to her community, and endeavours to endure doing so into the future: “I hope to continue to support the activities that make people want to live here, and the opportunities for social connections that make it a healthy place to live.”