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.

For me, one of the most amazing aspects of the conference was how people were strongly attentive to the present: listening and participating in response to what was happening in the moment—and with a clear eye to the future. The scientific presentations, which evidenced current and potential social and environmental health disasters given our society’s current trajectory, were balanced with joyful, interactive, small-group conversations and movement. The conference was also ‘intergenerative’, by which I mean full of wisdom and innovation that comes from integrating sources of generativity from people of different ages, disciplines, professions and cultural groups. The energy that was created there was a testament to the human spirit—showing how connecting mind, body and heart can catalyze unexpected resilience and positive change.

Perhaps the best way to capture what happened in New York is to let those who attended speak for themselves. Here are a few samples:

The energy in the room was real. Those assembled were not just bodies filling the room.  We were not in the dance hall, we were the dancers. Whether it was through expressive movement during a ‘Breath of Fresh Art’ or the lively discussion sparked from the various panels, real action based on real evidence was set in motion. Rick Moody ended the conference by stating, “Our work has just begun.” I believe that is true. The participants were inspired to return to their respective missions with the messages of the conference in order to make real change and truly create healthier environments across generations. – Josh Suvak, intern and undergraduate student, Inamori International Center for Ethics, Case Western University

This conference gives me hope that we will find a way out of the suffering that social and environmental injustice creates, and instead, work together across the many divides that now exist to rebuild a healthy Commons for all. – Gail Christopher, DN, Vice President of Program Strategy, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

What a breath of fresh air! I truly enjoyed the creativity, passion and broad variety of participants at this conference. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the activities, share ideas and thoughts about how we can all synergize our efforts towards assuring all generations are healthier! Many thanks to the staff who worked so diligently to put this conference together. – Yolanda Savage-Narva, Campaign Director, America Walks

This was an amazing and unique opportunity to integrate what we know about the science with what we know has to be done to create a healthier world. Hats off to the organizers! – Antonia Marthaller-Andersen MSN, ARNP, Director, Women to Wellness

In capturing real-time content during the unconference as part of the social media team, the themes that came across most consistently were: intergenerational solidarity and collaboration, social justice, the need for embodied responses and systems-based approaches, and the value of the arts, emotional connectivity, and hope. – Danny George, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities, Penn State College of Medicine

Excellent conference! The interactions among all the different participants that represented so many specialty areas was truly inspiring. This is the way to change things—one-on-one-on-one-on-one!
– Judy Lear, Acting Executive Director, Gray Panthers

Even if you weren’t there, please know you are welcome to join our ongoing conversation. Check out our Facebook page as well as our conference resource webpage, and the expanded creative expressions webpage (which now includes an MP3 recording of the song, “Talk to Me”, written by Tina Lear specifically for the conference). More information will continue to be posted along with opportunities to participate in collaborative work that emerged from this gathering.

I look forward to working together to create a movement of movements towards a healthy future for all!

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