Like many of you, we had exciting projects lined up for this spring. We were getting ready to follow up with our participants in Vancouver, Saskatoon, and Montreal about their travel patterns, social interactions and well-being, as part of our second data collection campaign. We had plans to double down on recruiting underrepresented groups to add to our cohort, attending community events, and connecting in person with you about our research.
We had prepped the data you shared back in 2018, so that when the 2020 data came in, we would be ready to study the changes in mobility patterns and health outcomes. When COVID-19 hit Canada, we knew we had to put these plans on hold temporarily.
Everything’s changed and there’s a lot we don’t know.
Here’s what we do know. The data you shared with us as part of INTERACT’s baseline study has become even more valuable. Researchers are looking to understand the impact of the pandemic on all aspects of daily life. Having such a complete picture of pre-COVID-19 of the way people move, connect and feel in their city is an invaluable resource. Thank you.
Our research program is based on the idea that transformations in our cities can impact people’s behaviours and health outcomes, all else being equal. Since March 2020, everyone has changed their behaviour in some way. How do we untangle the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic from urban design?
Like you, we have adapted. This is why in the next few months, we’ll be planning our 2020 data collection campaigns to take into account our new realities.
The pandemic has shaken up our routines, but it has also been an unprecedented opportunity to rethink our city’s public spaces.
With the safety and health of citizens in mind, our cities are reinventing themselves: parking lanes are being converted into wider sidewalks; streets are being closed to car traffic; and people are turning to neighbourhood shops for essential errands. At the same time, we’re seeing COVID-19 further exacerbates existing inequalities – some of the most low income neighbourhoods of Montreal have been disproportionately hit by the virus.
To alleviate these pressures, municipal governments are testing new solutions to facilitate daily mobility, safe access to outdoor spaces, and to promote social interactions while reducing risks. In our INTERACT cities, projects that would normally take years to implement are being rolled out in weeks. This summer for example, Montreal has sped up construction of the Réseau Express Vélo, a high capacity protected cycling network covering the city; Vancouver will be slowing down traffic on up to 50 km of local streets; Saskatoon has seen its walking and cycling traffic on the Meewasin Trail double, and Victoria has limited car traffic through Beacon Hill Park. Our team is eager to study the impact of these changes and many other interventions happening in your neighbourhood.
So, what does this mean for our research program? Right now, the team has focused on analyzing the data you’ve already shared with us, created environmental indicators to better measure the trees, neighbourhoods, and changes in your city, and supported students who are eager to keep moving their work along.
We’ll soon be contacting you with an invitation to participate in this year’s data collection campaign. We’re finding new ways to connect with potential participants, adapting our questionnaires and checking in with our city partners on data needs during this time.
Your participation in this research is so important, and we want to thank you for being a part of the INTERACT team.
PS- Some of the researchers on the team have launched a new study across Canada, focused on the impacts of confinement measures on our mental health, social connections, and mobility. If you want to check it out, they are at www.cohesionstudy.ca. Although this is a separate study, you might recognize an INTERACT tool or two.