New study on Vancouver’s Arbutus Greenway: Can urban planning affect health and well-being?
By Clement Woo
Research has shown that where people live is an important predictor of their health and well-being, but can cities make people healthier by design?
Meghan Winters, a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, is co-leading a study to investigate if and how developing Vancouver’s Arbutus Greenway will make the city a healthier and happier place to live, work and play.
The Arbutus Greenway stretches along a nine-kilometer historic railway line purchased by the City of Vancouver in 2016 for $55 million. The city recently approved a design vision for the Greenway that will transform it into a vibrant walking and cycling corridor connecting four different neighbourhoods.
The Interventions, Research, and Action in Cities Team (INTERACT), co-led by Winters, has initiated a new study in tandem with the Greenway’s redevelopment. Winters says INTERACT views cities as “living laboratories” by using big data to evaluate how changes in urban design are influencing health and well-being in communities across Canada.
“Designing and building urban infrastructure is a lengthy and costly process,” she says. “Yet there is very little local data and research available about the health impact of these investments.”
She says INTERACT aims to fill this knowledge gap by working in collaboration with citizens and Vancouver city stakeholders over a span of five years. The study will gather data to measure how changes in the urban environment impact the physical activity, social connectedness and well-being of nearby residents, and to determine whether these impacts are felt equally across socioeconomic groups.
The project will use new methods in mobile sensing, such as collecting sensor and GPS data through a smartphone app. These new methods, says Winters, capture a level of detail that is impossible using traditional survey methods.
“Designing cities that promote health and equity is a priority for public health and for urban planners who are looking for solutions to pressing urban health challenges like physical inactivity and social isolation,” says Winters. “By improving the ability of cities to measure and optimize the health benefits of their investments, INTERACT aims to guide sustainable urban development that will leave a lasting impact on population health and health equity in Canada.”
The study is currently recruiting adults 18 years or older who live within three kilometers of the Arbutus Greenway. They will help gather information about how this new development influences their health and well-being. Participating is a rare opportunity to contribute to cutting-edge research that will not only guide the future of urban spaces in Vancouver, but also inspire the design of healthier cities for all Canadians.
To participate or find out more about this study, visit: https://www.teaminteract.ca/vancouver/