If a picture is worth a thousand words, then residents from North Central Edmonton have glowing stories to share about their community. On a cool February evening, community members and representatives from the North Central Edmonton area gathered in the Sprucewood Library to learn more about how a tool called Photovoice helped them describe their community.
Photovoice is a research tool used to tell the story of a neighbourhood through photos, explains Candace Nykiforuk, assistant professor with the School of Public Health. The photos and stories about these photos collected for this project were on display around the Sprucewood Library and guests were encouraged to browse through them. The interactive evening provided an opportunity for visitors to explore the North Central Edmonton community through the photos.
The goal of the project, known as Community Health and the Built Environment, is to understand how people's decisions to make healthy choices are partly shaped by features in the community where they live, said Nykiforuk. "Our communities affect our lifestyle, activity levels and eating habits. Photovoice is just one of the tools we used to get a better understanding of the community stories. These stories can highlight opportunities and barriers to how communities participate in active healthy living."
During a presentation to community members, Laura Flaman, project coordinator with the School, and Nykiforuk explained how urban design factors in North Central Edmonton may have shaped residents' activity and lifestyle patterns. "Using Photovoice gives us an "insider's" perspective of the North Central Edmonton community," says Flaman.
Photos of green spaces, grocery stores and community paths painted a picture of the community. As part of a broader ongoing collaboration, the researchers are working with community partners to break down any perceived barriers to active, healthy living in the community.
Ten people from the North Central Edmonton area participated in the Photovoice project. Each participant was briefed by the project team and provided with a digital camera to use while out in the community. Participants were given two weeks to take pictures that would tell a story about their community. After two weeks, participants met with the researchers again, handed over the cameras, viewed the photos and shared their stories about each photo.
Jocelyne Forget wanted to share her stories about the community she's called home for over 10 years. "I walk my neighbourhood everyday," says Forget. "When I heard about this project, I thought it would be simple to take photos while on my daily walk. I captured different things like my favourite and not so favourite streets to walk down because of the shade from the big trees or the prostitutes that hang around near my home."
Forget's story is just one of many shared through photos of the North Central Edmonton area. Stories of poverty and despair, along with stories of opportunity and hope, were shared visually by photo takers. Pictures of green spaces, community centres and structured playtime in neighbourhoods told stories of how a community comes together to provide opportunities for healthy living.
Shannon Chinery's Grade 6 students told their own stories by conducting their own photo project. After noticing a poster about the project, Chinery contacted Flaman. "Of course we walked around typical places like playgrounds, areas that I assume all Grade 6 kids use for play," says Chinery. "What surprised me was that some of the same playgrounds were not used by my students after dark because it was where the drug deals happened."
A part of the City of Edmonton Revitalization Committee is reviewing the research conducted by Nykiforuk and her team, as well as the Photovoice tool, and considering how this method of input might be incorporated into downtown revitalization planning.
"I hope that when future plans relating to community environments are developed," says Nykiforuk, "that these stories shared by the people of North Central Edmonton are factored into decision making."
The Community Health and the Built Environment is a project within the Policy, Location and Access in Community Environments lab. To learn more about the project and to read the final report, please refer to the links below.