Healthy Environments Across Generations: Recap and Continuation

On June 7-8, 2012 over a hundred and fifty participants gathered at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) for the “Healthy Environments Across Generations” meeting which focused on the impacts that multiple, interacting environments can have on health (including the socioeconomic, chemical, food, built, natural, and psychosocial environments) as well as intergenerational and creative approaches to improve public and planetary health. CHE partnered with NYAM, AARP, the US EPA, The Intergenerational School, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, The Whole Child Center, and Grey is Green, along with over 60 co-sponsors, to put on this event. Peter Whitehouse, MD, PhD, co-founder of the Intergenerational School and professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve University, served on the planning committee. Below he summarizes this event in this month’s e-newsletter introduction.

“Healthy Environments Across Generations” was planned as an ‘unconference’ from the beginning. The absence of PowerPoint, the presence of conversational formats, the integration of the arts and music, the amplification of our collective experience through social media, sketches and videography, the lack of disciplinary boundaries, and the openness to creative thinking made this conference more than an event, but part of a mental shift toward collective, positive action based on hope, rather than fear.

Over one and a half days, the conversations were built on questions starting with “what are the key issues?” and “what is working now and why?” to “how do we get to the future we want?” We ended with vibrant summaries of what we had learned and found inspirational, and with innovative suggestions about where we go from here. There was broad consensus for organizing other gatherings and sessions at existing annual conferences using the successful format we implemented at NYAM—namely, integrating discussions on multiple environments that influence health with intergenerational perspectives and artistic expression. Initial conversations were held about planning events in New York, Cleveland, Washington and San Francisco, which would include these themes. We are also working to develop an E-book, based on the extraordinary array of materials and expressions of the conference, and to prioritize next steps for a variety of potential collaborative initiatives.

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