The Built Environment

The Built, Natural, and Social Environments

Our social, natural, and built environments can affect our immediate and long-term health.

The Built Environment

The built environment is:

  • All building, spaces, and products that are created or modified by people
  • Our homes, schools, workplaces, parks, business areas
  • Roads, trails, sidewalks, paths
  • The built environment extends overhead in the form of electric transmission lines and underground in the form of waste disposal sites and subway lines and across the county in the form of highways

Our health is affected by the decisions made on:

  • Land use (presence or type of building placed on land, density, designated use)
    • Green space (playgrounds, gardens)
    • Public spaces (meeting places, gathering spots)
    • Amenities (street furniture, outdoor dining areas, public restrooms)
    • Landscaping (trees, lighting)
    • Buildings (height, number, appearance)
    • Safety (lighting, sight lines)
  • Transportation
    • Streets, roads, and highways (design, pattern, traffic calming measures)
    • Sidewalks (location, width, connectivity)
    • Bicycle and walking paths (Active Transportation)


Municipalities in Ontario are required to plan for development and how the land in the community will be used in the future. Grey County and Bruce County are upper tier municipalities that are ultimately responsible for land-use planning.  Both Counties have their own Official Plan. Most lower tier municipalities also have their own official plan.  These plans must comply with the appropriate County Official Plan.

You help inform your municipality’s official plans by voting, participating in community consultations, and speaking with or writing to decision makers about what is important to you.

To learn more about land use planning and official plans, review the Citizen’s Guides produced by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Natural Environment

The natural environment is:

  • The air we breathe (indoor &  outdoor)
  • The water we drink (surface & ground water)
  • Wetlands, rivers, streams, lakes, water-bodies
  • Woodlands (forests)
  • Mineral and natural resource deposits

Our health is effected by the decisions that influence our access to the natural environment and its resources.

Grey Sauble Conservation Authority

Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority

Social Environment

The social environment includes all the other pieces of our community which are not built or natural.

Aspects of the social environment include:

  • The economy
  • Income and employment rates
  • Local employment opportunities
  • Poverty and related issues
  • Community involvement and participation
  • Housing – choice, affordability, quality
  • Safety and security
  • Leisure and recreation – a variety of low cost organized and unstructured opportunities for all ages
  • Lifelong learning opportunities
  • Social cohesion and social support networks
  • Arts and culture
  • Heritage

Learn more about the Social Determinants of Health


Healthy Public Policy

Healthy Public Policies recognize that health is more than health care and that there are opportunities to improve health and wellbeing through policy. Using a Health in All Policies (HiAP) approach means leaders recognize and consider the health impacts of their decisions, even when the aim of a policy is not to influence health or wellbeing.

WHO HiAP Statement

Healthy Policies for Official Plans


Climate Change


Climate change is not simply an environmental problem – it poses a serious public health challenge ~ MOHLTC

Climate change is influencing community wellbeing, creating greater risks to both physical and mental health. Communities can take action to respond to health risks and to protect those most affected. Find more resources describing climate change impacts and how communities can take action to adapt through Natural Resources Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.


How will Climate Change Impact our Health in Grey and Bruce Counties?

Climate Change Strategies

Climate change in our region is expected to result in more frequent and intense precipitation, more frequent and severe storms and an increase in the annual temperature. Flooding, severe, and prolonged winter storms, and widespread power outages are possible. Visit Get Prepared to learn how to prepare for severe storms.

The changing climate could also mean a greater risk for: Lyme disease and West Nile virus, water-borne illnesses, heat related illnesses and deaths and the possibility of displacement and isolation. Vulnerable populations (elderly, children, disadvantaged, and chronically ill) will be impacted to a greater degree others by climate change.

Click here to find out more about your health and climate change


Additional Resources


What can be done?

The good news is that simply by taking steps to make our natural and built environment healthier we are already on the way to mitigating and preparing for climate change! Reducing our energy consumption, using active transportation and clean energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and decreases air pollution. Reducing food waste and choosing to eat more plant-based foods also reduces greenhouse gases, is budget friendly and nutritious. Reducing waste reduces impacts to the environment and the energy used to process, transport and landfill waste. Promoting policy changes to consider health and environment can support an increase in active living, reduce storm water runoff, reduce flooding, and reduce urban heat island effects along with many other positive impacts. All of these examples may be small in scale on their own but taken together can have an impact and even help you be healthier.


Responding to climate change requires more than individual actions. Learn more about how United Nations, Canada, Ontario, and Grey County are responding. Some lower tier municipalities in Grey Bruce have developed Climate Action or Adaptation Plans, including Northern Bruce Peninsula, Owen Sound, and Huron-Kinloss. Other municipalities may include climate focused action in their Official Plans. Connect with your local municipality to learn more about the action being taken by your community.


Protect the drinking water in my private well


More frequent and intense rainfall events can contaminate our drinking water from agricultural and residential runoff. There is a direct link between heavy rainfall events and an increase in water contamination and outbreaks of gastrointestinal water-borne illnesses. Drinking, brushing your teeth, washing vegetables, and using contaminated water can make you sick with stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting or cause illnesses which could fatal. Heavy rainfall in May 2000, was a key factor in the Walkerton tragedy where 7 people died and thousands became ill from drinking contaminated well water.

View The Private Well Water Manual to learn how to keep your well water safe and visit the safe water page to learn how to test for bacteria in your water.

Safety at Public Beaches


Recreational water at our beaches can become unsafe for swimming during and for 24-48 hours after storms producing strong winds and heavy rain. This could mean an increased risk of getting sick from swallowing contaminated water while swimming. Beaches in Grey and Bruce County have a history of being safe. But, we know that the water quality can change from day to day or even hour to hour depending on the weather and other conditions. Check out our Beach listings to find out when it is unsafe to swim.

Stay Safe During Storms


Extreme weather is expected to become more common with climate change. Severe storms such as those that cause blizzards, freezing rain, strong winds and tornadoes can bring harm or injury to people. Storms can also damage critical services and infrastructure like our roads, buildings and utilities and excessive rain can cause flooding.  Extreme weather may also make it more difficult for emergency services to respond to an accident or emergency.

Visit Get Prepared to learn how to prepare for severe storms.


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