REACH Cities

REACH-CITIES (Research and Action for Healthy Cities) 

The goal of REACH-Cities is to advance research, tools, and partnerships that increase gender equity in our cities.

Our social identities, including our gender, shape our everyday experiences in the city. Yet attention and action on gender equity in North American cities is lagging; women, girls, and gender-diverse people are often not prioritized, represented, or engaged in city design. These groups face many challenges related to mobility, transportation, housing, childcare and safety. For example, they have disproportionately higher responsibility for household travel and for caregiving of children, elderly, or those with disabilities. Young women and gender-diverse people also experience the highest levels of harassment in public spaces. Thus, land use and transportation design, such as safe infrastructure for walking and cycling, or easy accessibility at public transit stations, can make it easier to use these transportation modes when carrying goods, or using a stroller. Design features like lighting and social environments (“eyes on the street”) are especially important for women, girls and gender-diverse people to be able to access transportation options, public amenities, and facilities (refer to this research brief for more information).

An equitable city is one where all residents – regardless of gender – have fair access to and participation in the life of the city. To achieve this, local governments need guidance on effective and tangible actions they can take to create spaces that are safe and welcome diversity.


The REACH-Cities program focuses on how cities can welcome and support people of all genders—especially those historically overlooked within city planning on the basis of age, race, income, or ability. REACH-Cities aims to identify practical ways to incrementally embed gender considerations into city planning processes. It is responsive to the needs of our partners and adopts community-engaged research methods to address urgent questions and timely opportunities.

The research of REACH-Cities explores the implementation and impacts of population health interventions such as policies related to municipal transportation or community planning policies, changes to the built environment such as new rapid transit and bicycle facilities, and programs that support social connections and physical activity. The overarching focus is to better understand how health-related outcomes are patterned by gender and other intersectional identities. The program is comprised of three connected themes of work:

  1. Population Health Intervention Research: generating new knowledge on the implementation and impacts of healthy cities interventions.
  2. Methods and Tools for Intersectoral Action: developing and applying novel approaches for integrating gender equity into decision-making in local, national, and international settings.
  3. Training for Healthy Cities: fostering a generation of changemakers, equipped with the expertise to catalyze action toward cities that promote health and health equity for all people.


Research BriefWomen and Cycling: A Canadian Picture


REACH-Cities partners are local government decision-makers responsible for designing and building healthy cities, primarily the City of Surrey. Surrey is home to 580,000 people, the largest city in BC by land area. Its tagline “the future lives here” reflects that it is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, adding ~ 10,000 new residents every year, a quarter of its population being under 20. Surrey is among the most culturally diverse cities in Canada: 52% of residents do not speak English as their first language. The built environment spans high density urban centres, smaller town centres, sprawling suburban subdivisions, and protected agricultural lands. Planning pressures in Surrey and cities like it are intense, and equity is a key priority and REACH-Cities will focus on supporting these needs in the coming years.

Beyond the City of Surrey, activities and outputs of this work will involve and support a much larger audience: community groups, planners, and health practitioners working in the Metro Vancouver region, as well as a broader network of provincial, national, and international audiences.


SFU Faculty Collaborators: Jen Marchbank, Tiffany Muller Myrdahl, Lyana Patrick, Travis Salway, Julia Smith, Travers,
Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU Surrey, Community Engaged Research Initiative (CERi), SFU Library

Funding for this project: CIHR (2022-2028), Applied Public Health Research Chair

REACH-Cities is keen to hear from local governments, health practitioners, advocates and NGOs, and researchers and trainees working in this space. Please contact