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Health and wellness

New chair to advance health equity in urban planning through City of Surrey collaboration

January 20, 2022

SFU health sciences professor Meghan Winters is partnering with the City of Surrey to advance health equity in B.C.’s fastest growing city. Newly named to a $1.15 million Applied Public Health Chair in the area of Sex, Gender and Healthy Cities, Winters and her collaborators are developing ways to integrate health equity considerations into the city’s urban planning and population health interventions.

The new chair will fund Winters’ REsearch and ACtion for Healthy Cities (REACH-Cities) program, an initiative that focuses on how cities can welcome and support people of all genders – including those belonging to age, racial, income, or ability groups that have historically been underrepresented in city planning contexts.

The program was co-designed with City of Surrey managers across transportation, road safety, social planning, community planning, and parks, recreation and culture areas. It is intended to be responsive to Surrey decision-makers’ needs, adaptive as priorities and directions evolve, and integrated into their planning processes.

“I’m meeting the cities where they’re at,” says Winters, whose research on creating healthy communities was recognized with a national Trailblazer award in 2020. “There is a range of supports that the City of Surrey will need, whether that’s addressing ‘what is equity and how do we measure it?’ or ‘how can we put our hands on data that tells a story about different population groups?’ or ‘how do we support the health of different groups in our communities?’”

Winters’ REACH-Cities work will focus on:

• Generating new knowledge on the implementation and impacts of healthy cities interventions;

• Developing and applying new approaches for integrating gender equity into decision-making in local, national, and international settings;

• Fostering a generation of changemakers, equipped with the expertise to catalyze action toward cities that promote health and health equity for all people.

Engaging communities across the region and beyond

In addition to City of Surrey, Winters will engage with SFU Surrey, SFU Library, SFU Community Engaged Research Initiative, SFU Knowledge Mobilization Hub, and Fraser Health as well as with other cities in the Lower Mainland, and across Canada.

“I am thrilled with the REACH-Cities announcement and look forward to supporting Dr. Winters and her team over the next six years,” says SFU Surrey Executive Director Stephen Dooley.” This project builds on the long-standing partnership between SFU and the City of Surrey.”

Winters notes that other cities may also benefit from the tools and approaches developed to assess the gendered impacts of their transportation, housing, or community development plans.

A portion of the funding provided by the chair is designed for training and mentoring undergraduates, graduates, early career researchers and community partners wanting to engage in the health equity work of REACH-Cities. Winters will facilitate interdisciplinary learning and knowledge translation for those engaged by REACH-Cities through workshops, summer institutes and other events.

“It's really exciting for me to proceed with this work because I've had students who are really passionate about making change happen in their community and in Surrey, so it's nice to be able to provide research opportunities for them that are in their communities and for me to learn directly from those first-hand experiences [and stories],” says Winters.

Program supported by SFU expertise

While REACH-Cities is a new program, Winters notes that the foundation for this work was laid by several SFU colleagues and collaborators. Health sciences associate professor Julia Smith developed a matrix to measure gendered impacts of the COVID pandemic and will be working with Winters to adapt it to evaluate impacts of planning policies.

Winters will also collaborate with SFU health sciences colleagues Travis Salway, an expert in minority sexual health disparities, and Lyana Patrick, an expert in urban Indigenous community planning and Indigenous community health and well-being.

Other SFU researchers working on gendered experiences in cities will add their support, including Meg Holden and Tiffany Muller Myrdahl in Urban Studies; Jen Marchbank in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies; and Travers, in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

The Applied Public Health Chair award is a national recognition for mid-career public health researchers that is jointly offered by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation. Eight awards totaling $8.05M were given during the 2021 competition.