issues and experts

Researchers tap Vancouverites to gauge design impact on healthier, happier cities

September 16, 2020


Meghan Winters, associate professor, Health Sciences


Expertise: epidemiology, GIS applications, built environment and health, transportation and city design

Shradhha Sharma; University Communications and Marketing, 604.202.2504,


The Interventions, Research, and Action in Cities Team (INTERACT), a Canadian research group, is launching the second phase of a five-year study to learn how investments in urban design impact health and wellbeing.

As global leaders work to reinvent cities to promote physical activity, wellbeing, and social connectedness during a pandemic, urban designers are creating solutions to counter the dual crises of climate change and COVID-19, including building greenways, parklets and slower streets. Yet, little is known about how investments in these solutions impact health and wellbeing at a local level, including how and who it benefits.

INTERACT, a Canadian research group co-led by SFU Health Sciences’ Prof. Meghan Winters, is looking for Vancouverites to get involved as it launches the second phase of a five-year study aimed at filling this knowledge gap.

The scientists, public health experts and city partners are using big data and new mobile sensing methods to provide governments with the evidence needed to justify and inform future investments in healthy cities.

“The world around us is changing at an unanticipated rate,” says Winters. “With INTERACT, we are able to look at how changes to our cities’ fabric impacts the health and well-being of residents.”

While the context of city living may have changed since the study began two years ago, INTERACT’s core research question remains the same, if not more relevant: How do we create cities that are healthier and happier for everyone, by design?

Since its launch in 2018, INTERACT has engaged with thousands of Canadians to evaluate the health impacts of real-world urban design intervention, including making investments of more than $225 million.

“Designing spaces that make it easy to be active and interactive is a big priority for cities,” says Winters. “There is lot to learn so that we can be confident that the changes we invest in today will positively impact the vitality of our communities tomorrow. We need better data to get to that point.”

In Vancouver, INTERACT is assessing how built environment changes, like the development of greenways, influence the physical activity, social participation and wellbeing of nearby residents, and whether these impacts are felt equally across different socioeconomic groups.

According to City of Vancouver landscape architect Kevin Connery, who has been a lead on the Arbutus Greenway project since 2016, a tremendous amount of work and community involvement has helped shape the Arbutus Greenway’s long-term vision of aspiring to deliver numerous social, environmental and economic benefits to Vancouver residents and visitors.

“With the construction of the temporary greenway, and our collaboration with INTERACT, we have been able to assess many of our design assumptions and consider future possibilities,” he explains. “Being able to measure if the anticipated benefits are being realized at the population health level is something we haven’t been able to definitively determine in the past; it is very exciting to bring measurable and tangible benefits to the community with INTERACT’s work.”

INTERACT is currently recruiting residents from neighbourhoods surrounding the length of the greenway to join the study. Participants do not need to use the greenway; in fact, more people who don’t use it are needed. Research activities are all done with the ease of a computer or mobile device, and participants will be entered to win one of 10 $50-VISA gift cards.

To learn more about the study and how to help advance the science on healthy urban development in Vancouver and beyond, visit


About Simon Fraser University: 

As Canada’s engaged university, SFU works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change. We deliver a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. We connect research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties that deliver 193 undergraduate degree programs and 127 graduate degree programs to more than 35,000 students. The university now boasts more than 160,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.