Cultivating Barrier-Free Communities Through the Civic Innovation Lab

August 23, 2022

The Civic Innovation Lab is a partnership between Simon Fraser University and the City of Burnaby that aims to find innovative and practical solutions to urban issues that the city faces.

During the launch of the Civic Innovation Lab, Dr. Atiya Mahmood, associate professor in the Department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University, was invited to present about a previous partnership that used her user-led neighbourhood accessibility audit tool called the Stakeholders’ Walkability/Wheelability Audit in Neighbourhoods (SWAN). Those in attendance included: Joy Johnson, SFU President; other SFU Leadership; Mike Hurley, Mayor of Burnaby; and several city councillors.

Prior to this partnership, Dr. Mahmood was involved in a project titled: SWAN-Vision Zero Pilot Project, in collaboration with several partner organizations, including the City of Burnaby’s Citizen’s Accessibility Advisory Group. This project involved the creation of an evidence-based empirical evaluation tool, otherwise known as the SWAN-Vision Zero tool. The project aimed to improve the walkability and wheelability of neighbourhoods in the City of Burnaby to reduce the risk of serious injuries and fatalities of pedestrians. As a result, this project led to increased pedestrian safety through the installation of new traffic signals, stop signs, and crosswalks. Having a past established relationship with the City of Burnaby highlighted the positive outcomes of partnerships between municipalities and research teams.

The MAP, and SWAN subproject, have been brought into this partnership with the goal of turning research findings into actionable policy and practice based on the city’s goal of developing innovative urban design solutions.

The Towards Barrier-Free Communities: A Partnership for Improving Mobility, Access and Participation (MAP) Among People with Disabilities, led by Dr. Ben Mortenson,  is a seven-year research project that aims to support community organizations and municipalities to develop, evaluate, and implement evidence-based interventions by addressing community-driven research questions to improve mobility and participation among people with disabilities.

The SWAN project is led by Dr. Atiya Mahmood and is a community-engaged study where people with disabilities act as co-researchers to examine the accessibility of streets to improve pedestrian environments and make neighbourhoods more inclusive.

The Civic Innovation Lab facilitates innovative research and emphasizes the role of community stakeholders as active participants in informing the research process to increase community engagement. In addition, this collaboration extends beyond research as it signifies the City of Burnaby’s dedication to improving accessibility in urban spaces.

The collaboration between the MAP-SWAN research teams and the City of Burnaby will support the development of barrier-free and accessible communities for people with mobility, hearing, vision, and cognitive disabilities.

In summary, this partnership will not only benefit neighbourhoods in the City of Burnaby, but it will also serve as a framework for other cities to use as a model for similar projects. Through scaling these interventions, municipalities can reach more communities using tools, such as SWAN as they work towards cultivating inclusive barrier-free communities in future city planning initiatives.  

Pictured: Dr. Atiya Mahmood and Dr. Ben Mortenson

Pictured: Dr. Atiya Mahmood and Thomas Ford