11. Signal Vol. 7, Built Environment and Public Health

The definition of home varies in different contexts and times and, at the same time, is shaped by its residents. Same as how we define our homes or living places, we are affected by our lifestyle and where we stay the most. In events like the current pandemic, the COVID-19, we are not only spending most of our days at home, but many of us should work, study, exercise, entertain kids and pets, and do many other activities while at home. As a result, we face many new challenges every day and many shared experiences that exclude us from social and personal activities. We should not forget that staying home does not have the same meaning and value for everyone. We have to recognize that people live in a large variety of conditions, being alone, different types of families, sharing places and homelessness, and also people who can't stay at home due to their jobs and responsibilities. All these points prompted us to think about home, and how can we redefine home for the post-COVID-19 time. Our societies were already at the stage of experiencing many changes in the nature of jobs and living. How the place of living affects our health and wellbeing, and what needs to be different going forward?

Print Screen of the Video Conference

John Peterson and Cameron Norman on Built Environment and Public Health!

Hi, we are Arezoo Talebzadeh and Kaveh Ashourinia, and this is our podcast on inclusion.
Quantization is an independent project with the support of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University.
[Music: Quantization (Theme-Guitars)]

Kaveh: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Quantization.
Cameron Norman: That’s a reminder of why we need to have architects much more engaged within public health. Or maybe another way to phrase that is public health, much more engaged with architects. I don’t want to be putting in the architects.

John Peterson: I think it’s a two-way street there.


Arezoo: The definition of home varies in different contexts and times and, at the same time, is shaped by its residents. Same as how we define our homes or living places, we are affected by our lifestyle and where we stay the most.
In events like the current pandemic, the COVID-19, we are not only spending most of our days at home, but many of us should work, study, exercise, entertain kids and pets, and do many other activities while at home. As a result, we face many new challenges every day and many shared experiences that exclude us from social and personal activities.
We should not forget that staying home does not have the same meaning and value for everyone. We have to recognize that people live in a large variety of conditions, being alone, different types of families, sharing places and homelessness, and also people who can’t stay at home due to their jobs and responsibilities.
All these points prompted us to think about home, and how can we redefine home for the post-COVID-19 time. Our societies were already at the stage of experiencing many changes in the nature of jobs and living.
How the place of living affects our health and wellbeing, and what needs to be different going forward?
Kaveh: In this episode, we are practicing physical distancing far from our studio and through an online platform, and strangely, we had technical difficulties during the recording and had to reschedule, therefore the episode recorded in two parts. It is funny how, in time that everyone talks about the future of work from home, we are still experiencing connection difficulties even in a city like Toronto.
We have a conversation about the built environment and system design, how architects, planners and designers have a chance to think systematically about the buildings, neighbourhoods and cities?
Arezoo: Our guests today are John Petersons, that you heard before in an episode on Inclusion and Sustainability

John: Hi, my name is John Peterson. I’m an architect, working for a firm called MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects here in Toronto. I’m a senior associate there and also the director of Sustainable Design and Building Innovation.

John Peterson Portrait
John Peterson

and Cameron Norman,

Cameron: Hi, I’m Cameron Norman. I’m a professional designer, evaluator, educator and psychologist based in Toronto who works with government, healthcare and non-profits to help them innovate and evaluate what kind of impact those innovations have on the world. I’m the principal of Cense Limited, an innovation and research consultancy and I’m on the faculty of design at OCAD University and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

Cameron Norman Portrait
Cameron Norman


Cameron: So John, it’s great to chat with you. I think the idea of thinking about physical space systems inclusion and how we relate to all of those, particularly on a system level, probably has never in at least my lifetime, ever been more relevant than it is right now, right here. It’s been interesting just to think a lot about space. I think what’s interesting about systems is that systems are always viewed from whatever perspective that you take. Move around the system, the system looks differently. And I think a lot of us right now are really starting to think a lot about what our homes look like, what it means to be home, what it means to stay at home, how we relate to our world around us.

Cameron: And I think probably somebody who designs and constructs these for a living, probably you have a lot to say on that and what it might mean for health. I certainly can think a lot about the health aspect, but as I’ve, was thinking about our conversation today, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what it means to be at home. Where does my home sit, how is it connected and things like that. So I think this is going to be really interesting.

John: The whole concept of where we’ve been over the past few weeks in terms of changing how work and how we relate to the built environment of the home that we have and that we sit in every day, everything has changed. It’s really been quite a startling kind of a upheaval. It’s surprising on how resilient our office has been. We’ve been able to actually kind of move everybody to working remotely from home and have many sessions of kind of like social engagement where we’re meeting at lunch. But it’s also, it’s been greatly surprising to watch everyone’s backgrounds as well within the video feeds, so you can see everyone’s home life and see where they’ve set up their shop. I personally am sitting here in my dining room, just adjacent to an open kitchen so it can get pretty loud. Hopefully no one will walk through during this podcast. But …

Cameron: That’s so interesting. That idea of home and office being combined. I think we’ve had the tools for 20 years if you include just the phone, probably a lot longer than that to be able to work from home. But now when in most cases, it’s not even an option anymore. I mean, some cases people would like to work from home because it would give them a chance to maybe not go into the office, save on a commute, maybe they could do something else at home. Just to break things up. Now all of a sudden it’s, we have a place that was designed for one personal purpose, which is now where we’re redesigning it for an office space. Like your kitchen probably you didn’t think too much about it as being an office and now here it is, now it’s a recording studio.

John: Yup, exactly. Yeah. And a homeschool as well at certain times of the day. There’s a certain level of, you expect, I think there is a certain level of resilience that’s associated with the typical family home. I mean, there’s multiple uses within spaces, but I don’t think the concepts are deeply ingrained in terms of being able to use a home as an office. And that definitely was not considered that much back in the day. I mean, my home is now 115 years old and it’s been through many iterations, but I doubt there’s been anybody that extensively used it for working remotely, especially with the computers.

Cameron: I mean, just imagine this whole idea about resilience is a great term because I think it’s one of those things that people understand and yet at the same time, having that ability to bounce back, have that ability to repair and move. I think it’s never been more critical, I think at a global level.

John: Yeah, that’s agreed. Agreed. And definitely when you’re talking about the built environment and what resilience means and across from like the home through to the community, I think definitely, I’m definitely a part of a privilege when it comes to being able to work technically from home.

Cameron: Well, and when you think about this, is that the interconnections between all of these things, so from the perspective of if you have a job, it gives you purpose, meaning. It gives you something to wake up for every day, but it also gives you of course an income. Income allows you to not only have a home, like a physical home that you can at least afford and hopefully a place that you reasonably like. But it also allows you to be close to things like schools or places where you can actually get some food in that. And what often happens with these situations is that we start to realize those gaps.

Cameron: So all of a sudden the idea is that if you’re, I think while we might’ve appreciated having a grocery store close to us, it might not have been a big deal. Now all of a sudden that becomes much more important in terms of thinking about where your home is and what your home looks like in terms of being able to then not only get food, but keep it and cook it and prepare it. So many places now are not designed for that.

John: I know that there’s a fellow in our office, he just has recently moved into his brother’s house out of town just to actually have a bit of a social structure. So he and his brother and his family, and he’s a single man. He just moved out there with them so he could be a part of that household. And that goes to think about how the homes that we have are also designated upon this idea of independence in a single family home. I think that what we’re going to probably see, hopefully going forward is this kind of going back to the concept of a multi-generational house where you can actually have several generations or even different siblings and their families living together. And what that means, it’s a completely different construct on what a house, what it should look like.

Cameron: Yeah, it’s incredible how we have a generation of structures. I don’t want to call them even homes because I think home is as much a social construct as are these, about a structure. But we have these structures that were never designed for this and when you look at the idea about a single apartment, say a studio apartment, you think, well that’s fine because you can always go out. There’s lots of people that you can meet hypothetically, you can go over to your brother or sisters. You can do all sorts of things. Now we don’t have that. That’s such an interesting story about your colleague choosing to do that.

John: Yeah, and it’s interesting to think that it is driven quite a bit by that kind of construct of being able to be financially independent, to be kind of independent as a person with your own family, against all of the other elements within your family, be it a mother or father or a brother or sister. The whole construct of kind of the new modern family house reminds me of this program that was developed back by a postwar and it was called the Case Study Houses. It was a program for the design and building of inexpensive and efficient model homes for the postwar housing boom. It really looked at not only kind of like how we lived, but it changed the structure of the fundamental family home at that moment in time.

John: And not only did it explore those kinds of concepts of novel means of construction and prefabrication, but it kind of invented spaces such as the great room and all these kinds of aspects, but it never, never once did it look at, hey, what happens when a grandma wants to come live with us? Or my brother is going to be coming to live with us, with his family. It just, it doesn’t take that into account at all.

Cameron: Well, that’s so interesting because if you think about it, I think one of the keywords I just sort of heard through a new light was this idea about independence, that’s exactly right, is like our structures, our homes and our neighbourhoods have overemphasized independence.

John: Yes.

Cameron: And the idea is that even you move out as a young person, as soon as you can, you move out onto your own so you have independence as opposed to designing for interdependence, which is much more of a systems concept.

John: The piece that entices me about this whole case study house thing was that it brought together some of the best designers of the era and they only, they designed 36 of them and built roughly with about 20 of them still surviving today. And I think it would be really, really fascinating if there were a program developed again, revisited what it means to be instead of a postwar housing, it’s like post COVID housing. Is there other new models that can come into play that define what the new home, a new house is and is it built upon these ideas of flexible growth? I mean, are there other modularity that can occur that allow the home to grow and flex up and flex down completely within a kind of prefabricated social-

Cameron: And there you go, there’s resilience built into this structure of a structure.

John: Yeah, exactly.

Cameron: That idea of flexible growth. I think that’s an interesting thing to consider from a systems perspective, but certainly from a structural perspective when you think about these ideas are, of how we’ve structured our neighbourhoods are based on a relatively inflexible model that we’re going to have to try and figure out. I would love to be able to see the post COVID house. The priorities have now changed. It’s an interesting thing to consider, but even the idea of flexibility, like I think the idea, I don’t know myself but is how often someone thinks about adaptation when they buy their home.

John: Yeah, it’s very true that … I know the home I live in has gone through many iterations from a triplex down to now a single family home. And we know we could easily go back to splitting up the house multiple different ways to suit different configurations.

Cameron: So it’s designing for interdependence and independence at the same time.

John: Yeah. I’d like to go back to your topic there where you were talking about kind of healthy housing. I find that design and this is probably, fits well within your systems, the systems thinking. As well, the systems design is really kind of trying to engage within the people that will be living with the design and being able to conduct research to ensure that the project that you are designing meets and addresses their priorities. And I’m curious about what you think about the priorities that are changing now because of the COVID crisis.

Cameron: One of the things I think priorities are going to come from this are not just your house, but your house in proximity to certain spaces. So for example, do you have access to fresh air? Whether that is, designing a different balcony or whether it’s designing a patio or some sort of place, but also designing a green space. I think the idea from my health perspective, we know that there’s a lot of data that suggests that access to green space has a positive mental health and there’s been evidence for some physical health benefits. But I think it’s always been in the idea that those green spaces are places where you can move. And I think what we’re seeing now, particularly as we’re starting to close them off, is that it’s not just about moving, it’s about this idea about living.

Cameron: It’s about having a space that you can be outside that you don’t necessarily have to go to. To me, I think that’s going to be one of the interesting things from a design perspective is how do you create, how do you bring back some of those … How do you bring back the air? How do you bring back the, some places to move that are either attached to your home or readily accessible so you’re not having to walk five or six blocks to some parkette where that’s perhaps serving 15 residential buildings.

Cameron: I think the other thing that’s also going to come from that when you think about the systems is this idea about how do we think where we live in the sense of the structure and the interior and exterior to where we work. And that idea about really understanding whether that turns into something like a home office or even the ability to connect with other people physically, but also electronically. I think this idea about the wired home is going to take on a whole new meaning once this is finished. And how do we design for that at the outset.

John: Yeah, exactly. It’s interesting to think what kind of architectural manifestation that would take, but like how do you, seeing what that means spatially or formally it interests me, but it would be … It’s I think time to develop the kind of the research now might help us embolden around, kind of like empower our designs immediately as we start to think about new projects moving forward.

Cameron: Yeah. Well, I think what ends up happening is the right now when we think about health and safety and the built environment in like systems, we tend to think about things like safety as in is it a neighborhood where there’s high crime or is there anything toxic in the sense of your near a landfill of some sort of thing, or former industrial site or something like that. I think there’s been a lot of looking at that, but now what’s happening is I think we’re expanding our view of what health means in place, in a way that we’ve known it, but it’s now becoming, I think … I believe it’s going to become much more front and center.

Cameron: We’re going to start to see people starting to think about what is a healthy home. I’ve come to realize I was largely indifferent to video conferencing before just because I just didn’t think … I was fine. I was fine to see people, I was fine not to, but more and more I’m really appreciating seeing people.

John: And how you take that.

Cameron: Now that we’re starting to think a little bit about how the home is constructed and what its multiple purposes are, one thing that is coming to mind more than ever is this interesting almost dilemma or dichotomy with systems is that when you think about a system, you think about it as a whole. So you think of the entire environment. We also have to think about the parts and one of the interesting things is just even the idea of like internet connection and the ability to bring people into the conversation by way of having enough bandwidth. So now all of a sudden this whole part of the system is the idea of bandwidth device, if they have that.

Cameron: But even if you break that down, so we might be meeting with Zoom or Skype or something like that, but is the ability to be able to see someone and if it’s inclusive, even this idea about being able to see visually, like actually having tools that people can look at and see what they’re saying, can they communicate with their voice? It’s so interesting to be able to think about all these things that all of a sudden get broken down and they get reconfigured within the confines of a home now, and what it means to be able to live and thrive in a home. And I don’t know how we necessarily build for that.

John: Well, I mean, I think that having internet access is still not considered a fundamental right and especially even broadband. They’re great swaths of Canada that have really little or no access to broadband internet and being able to even do distance learning is difficult. A lot of first nations up North in Ontario here still have very little access to it, especially even at a home level. And I think building in those kinds of necessities I think is going to be a future policy that we’re going to really need to have and what it means in terms of like, how we construct our new buildings is just going to be totally changed by that and hopefully for the better.

John: Most architects when they’re designing a home, it’s usually for the top 10% population where in terms of income earners, having an architect design a house is actually quite a privilege that a lot of people don’t get access to. Not to say that architects aren’t willing to kind of do everyone’s designs, but it’s just architects have only a slight fingerprint on a lot of the constructed world.

Cameron: And yet what’s interesting is they have such an enormous fingerprint at the same time. What I find interesting is with the pandemic and the closures of everything and people being housebound is thinking a little bit from a public health standpoint about how it adds yet another layer onto the issue around affordable housing and what that means for personal wellbeing and health. Because it’s one thing to say if you have a home and the home is a place where you throw your bag at night and you sleep and maybe you have the basic amenities in that, but it’s a whole other thing when you think I might be there 23 and a half hours a day, not just live, but also work now. I think rethinking of that is going to hopefully change at least our understanding of health and the built environment. I don’t know whether it’s going to change policy.

John: Yeah. Well, it’s kind of interesting that you mentioned kind of the aspects of health and wellness that there’s a building certification program out of the States. It was in fact, I think it was developed in part by the CDC and it’s called Fitwell. They’re making it now available for multifamily residential buildings. And it’s a really phenomenal system to kind of utilize within your design process to be able to touch upon, they have seven health impact categories that are related to it. But I mean, it’s got over 70 evidence-based design and operational strategies that can be used to enhance the design of a multifamily residential building. Access to light, access to views of nature, air quality, many different aspects that are just … It’s quite a great program.

John: It was really started initially for kind of helping developers keep an eye toward what’s important in terms of occupant and user health. And it allowed for things like exercise rooms or gyms to be included within developments like office developments so that the people in there could actually go and be active as well as even just the things like making sure that things are not on toxic VOC lists that are out there. It was just … Yeah, it’s a great and it’s a very open program and it was meant to touch upon the ideas of health and wellness that really, really impacted people’s lives. It’d be interesting to see how that kind of certification, whether it just starts to become a little bit more implemented as policy.

John: The people that developed WELL we’re kind of offshoots of the USGBC, but WELL was used to fill the void that LEED wasn’t hitting with new buildings by developers because it was the tenants that wanted to focus on the health and wellness for their employees to help attract employees as well as help retain them.

Cameron: When you’re talking about filling the void, I think about that maxim, that phrase that what measured gets managed.

John: Yes.

Cameron: And I think that idea is that this may be a good call for us to start to measure a little bit more about how health is affected by our home, what is a healthy home from a built environment standpoint. And we could measure that. And I believe we could without knowing the Fitwell criteria, but I think if we could start to think a little bit more about that instinctively.

John: Yes. And definitely it’s something trying to impact health and wellness. I mean, LEED has done a great job of creating a marketplace for better building products. It’s done a great job for allowing people to focus on access to transit, stormwater retention and energy in particular. But there’s always pieces in there that are left to the side and that health and wellness aspect is something that was brought in by another couple of standards, which I think can be touched upon by LEED. But it’s some of the social in an inclusive aspect are still, I think, left a little bit outside of the margins of those standards. And it should be interesting to see on how those pieces kind of come into play in future design standards or even policy at a broader level.

Cameron: It’s interesting, I think a lot of it comes down to also the push and pull of who decides. Like you mentioned that the 10% sort of thing at the top can really think about hiring an architect to design a home for them. And yet when you think about the special needs of those particularly at the bottom 10%, often those with disabilities, those who have large families and don’t have a large income. It’s interesting to think about whether or not to what extent we can push these kinds of standards so that they get adopted in early as opposed to just the pole.

John: Well, it is kind of interesting to think that although the architects kind of operate at the two ends of the spectrum and in a certain way that a lot of the buildings you think that are like talking about social housing stock, usually multi-unit residential, even getting into kind of homes with a certain amount of healthcare connection. Those are buildings that are designed by architects. And so you can see the rich and the other end of the spectrum tend to, they’re the ones than need it are also getting it. It’s just the kind of the middle of it that the big, broad middle of it and even getting into depending on where you are, it’s certainly impactful when you talk about kind of like how things, say we talk about indigenous housing up North in Ontario and their access to housing, housing is a complete crisis up there.

John: And I think a lot of it is dealt with the fact that there’s been, in terms of how houses are designed and built, generally they go to a prefabricated catalog and pick out the home when they’re allowed to do so. And it’s kind of delivered and built without any connection, without any voice of the future inhabitants of that house to say how they live. So there’s very little social connection and they’re designed as single family homes. Again, they’re not designed as multi-generational homes, which they tend to become. And the homes in terms of their construction quality, although are quite good, but they just don’t last within how the buildings get used.

John: When you suddenly pop a hole in the wall of a prefabricated home to put in a wood stove, the wood stove heats up to some astronomical amount of heating. The idea that the houses that are kind of built don’t take into account how the people actually live in them and how they use them. So you suddenly have 10 to 12 people living in a single family house that has this wood stove, it’s jacked up the humidity levels in the home and that moisture has to go somewhere and it starts to move and migrate through the wall assembly. And the homes are usually rife with mold within a few years.

Cameron: What’s interesting about that is what I’m hearing is that you’ve actually got both a very smart and a non-smart design, like a smart building so the idea of actually being able to do prefab, which allows you to do construction up North in a way that you couldn’t do otherwise. That’s fit for purpose for a single family dwelling that’s using a certain kind of heating and a certain kind of living, and yet it’s a perfect design for the setting, but it’s not a good design for the people.

John: Yes. The understanding of the social nature of the design in terms of the community and the individuals that are using it. They’ve got no say, no skin in the game. And then generally the homes do get abused and they just generally fall apart. I was involved in a little bit of a design scenario where we were looking at how do we fix this problem, entirely privileged being architects in a bigger urban center. But the idea that we had some great minds thinking about it and we were trying to look at some methods of modularity, prefabricated construction. Maybe there’s some mass timber that’s going into it in terms of trying to reduce its carbon footprint. But what really came into my mind was the fact that there’s a fundamental core of a functioning of this building that should have an ebb and flow of constructed space around it so that, that core could actually plug into the community systems such as water or sewage.

John: In some cases there is no connection to any of that water or sewage, so your like truck in and truck out. And how do you connect into that? And it became really super interesting to think of this as like a, fundamentally as a systems thinking exercise just for that. And then you start to expand out and saying, what are the spaces that connect around this core? How do you make it so that building could potentially grow or shrink in size depending upon its housing, the homes needs.

Cameron: That’s such an interesting idea, that idea that you could potentially, it’s almost like saying if you had a common core that met that need that you could use almost as a, I don’t know if skeleton is the word, but something that you could actually shape things around there. And that gets back to what we were talking about before was this idea about living homes. The idea of imagining the home as a system that evolves for its use over time as families grow or contract or where the needs change in that. Imagining the idea of the home is almost as an organic living system as opposed to just simply a constructed piece of static material.

John: Yeah, that’s just got … And it’s got a beginning and an end. It’s like, no, it needs to accommodate many things. Many things change in the world and …

Cameron: Yeah. And I think part of the other thing that’s also thinking about also in systems is this idea about even if you could, you’re also limited by whose next to you.

John: Yeah. I mean, that’s the beauty of a stick frame construction is that it’s entirely flexible. And the standards in it make it so that you can quite readily add onto your own home without really truly engaging in a design professional. There’s some potentials there, but it always comes back to how did the city control it through building permits and inspections during those processes to make sure these things are constructed safely.

Cameron: Yeah. What’s also interesting I find about this is that where you end up getting that tension, and I think some neighbourhoods are better at this than others. But that tension between your space and others and all I have do is think about some of the trees. You go into some of the older neighborhoods and you have trees and you think, well, the tree is on my property and it may belong to the city, but it extends over my neighbour’s property. So at what level am I responsible for my neighbours well being and you can then imagine this idea about thinking about what that means in terms of trying to create a healthy, supportive, even inclusive neighbourhood when you have shared assets that are controlled in a way by sometimes shared groups, but sometimes not.

John: Well, especially if that tree that’s sitting out in your front yard, you’re not technically allowed to prune it. I know my neighbours to the south of us, they basically, they did not enjoy the fact of having a large maple tree shedding its leaves onto their lawn and it wasn’t on their lawn. And it was a tremendous amount of work for them at certain at one time in a year.

Cameron: Yeah, that’s actually quite incredible.

John: But there was a comment that you made at our last recording, we were talking about understanding the priorities and how the house, how the home it’s got its broader levels of connections that extend outside into the neighbourhood and trying to understand how that fits in green space access to nature, access to views of green space, all truly, truly important. And I think it’s one of those things that I think that as designers and builders in the cities, it’s going to become even more important for us to encourage those connections.

Cameron: I agree. It’s interesting, my Ph.D. is in public health and we never talked about the built environment.

John: Which is crazy.

Cameron: Yeah, I know. It is. It’s absolutely incredible. I mean, and even more so I was in behavioral science, so it was all about how people use things and behave with things. But what’s interesting is like we would talk all about getting exercise. We would talk about eating right. We would talk about these sorts of things and we might talk about some systemic things like access to food, but we would never talk about where that was consumed, where we started, where the idea of the home as being so central to public health.

John: I think you’re starting to ask the right questions. So, I mean, I remember there was one question that you asked before and that was what is home? And to think about home as something that keeps you safe, allows you to grow, but as well as allows you to engage with the community around you. So is home something that’s just singular construct of a building or is it actually part of a neighborhood, a broader community that you exist within?

Cameron: Yeah. Well, what’s so interesting is that what we talk about when we talk about home, if at all, it’s home care. So that is that when you’re sick, maybe you can get some care in the home, but we don’t talk about what home means, like living in the home and thriving in the home. The actual thing of actually creating health in the home and it’s so interesting to think about that. I find that health gets brought into so many other disciplines and yet the discipline that’s got health and the name doesn’t bring these other disciplines into it.

John: Yeah. It’s funny that you mentioned the kind of like bringing things to the home. We’re involved in one project right now in the office that, or potentially will be involved in it, but it’s the idea that for a condominium project to have multi-unit residential building that instead of kind of like building something like that and kind of associating yourself with the community center or something local to that, actually wanted to internalize the community center. So there’s an aspect there where they kind of are bringing the community into the broader aspects of this multi-unit residential project. And it’s super interesting.

Cameron: See that’s so important. Like this idea about having to go out, that ability to not have to travel. I’ve seen a slightly different thing, where you have care homes, so whether it’s assisted living or more like a formal nursing home as they would call it, incorporating things like daycare into those places. So you have multi-generational contact within a care environment and it makes sense on so many levels because the young children love to see those living in the home. Those living in the home love to see it. It also provides a space, particularly for workers. So if they have children in daycare, they can actually go to those kinds of places. It solves so many problems all in one space. And the first time I’d ever heard of that was a few years ago of that being done. And I thought, well it makes so much sense.

John: It should be interesting to see in the next steps as we come out of this crisis or as we can follow through in these next coming months and hopefully not years, how the conversation’s going to change.

Cameron: That’s a reminder of why we need to have architects much more engaged within public health. Or maybe another way to phrase that is public health, much more engaged with architects. I don’t want to be putting in there architects.

John: I think it’s a two-way street there.
The idea of health related to emotional and mental stress associated with housing instability, it must be huge at this time. Just by the sheer fact of people maybe not being able to pay rent and/or they were in a crisis before and then just pile it on with this crisis and understand how were they getting their assistance? How are they being kind of helps to kind of mediate their emotions and the mental stress that they must be feeling.

Cameron: Absolutely. That’s a really good point to raise because I think one of the things is, and I think it comes back to this idea of home, is that if it’s a place that you’re residing, then all of a sudden it feels much more fragile in the idea that rent is due, you get kicked out. You have even a slight reduction in your income, you have a real issue. And if I don’t pay my rent, I lose my anchor to my community. I lose my home. The data is clear on how impactful that can be. That idea of living with that worry gets into the body and it causes an enormous amount of damage. And that may be the … There’s been some talk about this may be the next hidden wave of the pandemic that’s about to come is what’s going to start to happen when these anxieties start to build. And that means you have to be able to make up that income which you weren’t able to do before the crisis, let alone now.

John: Yeah. I think that the rent is one aspect, but when you also think about people who have been not working, they do own their home.

Cameron: Absolutely. And when you have that housing instability, it causes also so many ripples. These are scenarios of which happen all the time. Housing instability, financial insecurity, and yet what this pandemic has done, one of the gifts, if you want to call it that, is that it’s starting to reveal a lot of these relationships in new ways, but nonetheless is that once we go back, whatever we go back to a lot of those things are still going to be there. I think that’s going to be an interesting conversation about what it means to live in a home, be in a neighborhood, be part of a community and being able to afford that.

John: Yeah. And being able to respond in the new design projects and new buildings or even renovations of existing buildings to see how they can change to accommodate these new realities.

Cameron: Maybe you’re most optimistic, where do you see things going once things settle, whatever that settling looks like?

John: It’s so hard to think about because on one side, we are facing a massive existential crisis of climate change and we were starting to see a lot more traction in projects to basically accommodate, mitigating those future changes. I mean, the climate is going to change, that we can’t really stop that, all we can do is mitigate our future impacts on it. And I mean, some of the goals of trying to get to carbon neutral by 2050, those are really, really difficult goals to get to. And so suddenly piling on that with this other crisis of another existential crisis. It’ll be an interesting time. I mean, our firm recently just sent a letter out to federal government and the provincial government just suggesting some potential things that could be done in the short term to help make sure that projects that we are doing are kind of not held back so that we can actually get things moving forward.

John: So the economy construction can start very quickly when we move in. But we also then doubled down and said, we should also not ignore the potentials that we … obligations we have toward meeting our climate crisis. And so, maybe if to help meet those things, it would be to kind of release funds so that research could be taking place on projects to see how they could potentially change to meet those realities. And there’s not a lot of grant programs or interest out there in terms of kind of like meeting the social crisis that we’re hitting. And it would have been interesting to add in that layer into kind of the request is just to maybe, maybe we have to start to think about these as health within the built environment, community health and mental health inclusivity. All of these aspects have to be taken care of as well as the existential crisis we’re facing in terms of climate change.

Cameron: I do sometimes wonder whether or not we can parlay this experience that is a shared experience globally around an issue of health, the economy. In many ways also the environment because of what we’re not doing. If we can parlay that into some more concerted effort towards climate change, which in many ways is the same. It’s a global issue, it’s affecting the economy, it’s affecting health, it’s affecting everything. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not we’re able to take this example and do what you’re talking about is this idea about reminding people of what we do. Can we build, like literally build this in to what we’re building for the future. This idea about building things for health into the future and thinking that these things are all tied together. My most hopeful self thinks that there’s a possibility for that.

Cameron: I wonder what will happen of whether or not we will just think, ooh, thank goodness that’s all over. Let’s now move back to what we were doing, versus we have a chance now to think differently and show that maybe we can tackle climate change. We’ve been able to do with it for this and without any disrespect to any of the work that’s being done in public health, it’s not that complicated. It’s tricky. There’s a lot of moving parts, but what we can see, social distancing, we can feel the physical distancing, washing hands, those things work pretty well. I mean, we can isolate this virus reasonably well. It’s having a big effect. But if you think about climate change where you’re dealing with things like weather systems and floodplains and that sort of stuff like that. I like to think there’s some hope, that we’ve been able to marshal all of these resources for this. It might give us some excitement and energy to say, maybe we can tackle climate change once this is all done.

John: Yeah. No, I think that is the … We have to be, we have to remain optimistic. I was reading recently that there’s a city in the Netherlands that is looking at trying to change how they work on an economic basis. It was policy called doughnut economics, where it looks at this ring of a donut where things that need to be done in terms of community health, of response to climate change is kind of dealt with within the ring, within the center portion. You always have to take that into account. But then looking at the outer ring as being this outer boundary where you do not go past it because it’s outside of the bounds of what’s your carbon economy, of what’s your energy, what your systems can handle. So it would be interesting to see how that works. I believe the woman’s name is Kate Raworth out of Cambridge that has pioneered this look and it goes away from thinking about everything is a reference in economy to GDP and growth. And it tries to keep … It looks at a stable economic system.

Cameron: The idea of GDP and growth. I mean, it’s all meant to serve one purpose and that’s human health and wellbeing, and yet we kind of forget that. Now unfortunately it’s mostly to serve health and wellbeing, obviously more for some than others. But this idea at its base about why are we doing this in the first place, is that if you don’t have the health and wellbeing, nothing else matters. And I often think that’s another thing that’s coming from this, is at least temporarily and hopefully permanently people will start to think a little bit more about going, my home matters in a way that it didn’t before. My neighborhood matters. My health matters more than it did, and maybe my family and friends matter in ways that I hadn’t thought about them before. Certainly the internet matters in ways we haven’t thought about as we’ve discovered.

John: Maybe that fundamental thing is we have to make internet a fundamental human right.


Kaveh: It was the eleventh episode of Quantization. We want to thank Cameron and John for accepting our invitation, and all of you for listening to our podcast.
Special thanks to Marshal Bureau for all scores he composed for Quantization!

Arezoo: For more episodes, more information and the full transcripts, please check out our website, quantization.ca and come back for upcoming episodes.


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