Upstream received national attention last week in an article by Allan Casey in the Walrus magazine.
Executive Director Ryan Meili shared his thoughts on the changes happening in Saskatoon's Riversdale neighbourhood where Upstream is based. He talks about his hopes for the neighbourhood and invites us to think about how Saskatoon could "be something different, something more community minded"
"Idylwyld Drive divides Saskatoon to this day, just as railway tracks, rivers, and highways divide other cities for similar reasons. Except that lately in Riversdale, some people are trying to erase the line." writes Allan Casey.
At a noisy back table in the Underground Cafe, I’m straining to hear a soft-spoken fellow. Like Tommy Douglas, he’s a bookish sort preoccupied with health care. And like Douglas, Ryan Meili keeps faith that the Land of Living Skies remains a crucible of change.
“Saskatchewan has a history of looking at a problem and saying, We can do it differently,” says Meili. The family physician, who attends at two progressive west-side clinics, teaches community health at the University of Saskatchewan, and daily confronts what he would call the social determinants of health—which aren’t exercise and cholesterol but housing quality, education level, and income. A decade ago, he moved to Riversdale to be closer to his patients, though the patients have since decamped further west. In his 2012 book, A Healthy Society, he lays out a plan for revitalizing Canadian democracy by making health outcomes the underpinning of all government policy—Quebec and Finland are already moving toward this model.
We can just become like anywhere else—push people out when a neighbourhood gets hot. Or we can be something different, something more community minded
… In 2013, he founded Upstream, a national, non-partisan organization headquartered in Riversdale and dedicated to building the healthy society he envisions. The name comes from a classic public-health parable about drowning kids in a river, and the expensive agencies that rescue them one by one instead of going upstream to see who’s throwing them in the water. Poverty Costs, Upstream’s first major campaign, showed that 100,000 of Saskatchewan’s 1.1 million people live in poverty despite the boom. This costs us $3.8 billion a year, much of it in health care. “Douglas always said we didn’t go far enough with medicare, that we didn’t get to prevention. He talked about a second stage, getting at the causes.” Meili believes reinvigorating the nation with a health-in-all-things approach requires bold strokes that are uniquely possible here. “There are two reasons why Saskatchewan is interesting. The first is our history of innovation. The second, which may be the cause of the first, is that we’re small. We can actually control things here. The scale is not too large. I’ve always thought it was the reason medicare was possible here. This little trapezoid makes a fantastic lab.”
Upstream's book club, which meets online, is exploring the issue of gentrification in Canadian cities this month. Click here to learn more and RSVP.