An exciting project to improve public spaces

“Walking the Walk in Smaller Cities” is a collaborative project that brings together Brandon University the City of Brandon, and Prairie Mountain Health, with federal funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

About this land

We acknowledge that the city of Brandon is located in Treaty 2 lands. This continues to be a gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Dakota, Anishanabek, Oji-Cree, Cree, Dene and Red River Métis peoples. Any discussion of land and space in Brandon is possible because of the treaties and the continued contributions of Indigenous people to care for this place. By starting with an acknowledgement of Indigenous people’s relationship with the place we call Brandon, we want to encourage meaningful reflection about understandings of land, its value and its use. We also want to honour Indigenous knowledge and what we can learn from Indigenous teachings

Making Brandon a livability leader

Our goal is to situate Brandon as a model city for active transportation and public space initiatives, especially compared to other smaller cities. We believe Brandon can be a livability leader on the Canadian prairies, and that we can demonstrate “built in Brandon” solutions here that will be copied by other places.

In doing this, we also want to develop collaborative approaches that can also be shared with other groups. These approaches should deliver meaningful health and social impacts through an equity lens.

What’s that mean?

We are exploring how people in Brandon use public spaces. This includes space that is open to the public such as parks, plazas and pathways, or streets and sidewalks. It does not include privately-owned space like stores, malls, or parking lots. 

We also want to know how you use active transportation to move through Brandon. Active transportation means getting around using your own power. For many people, this involves walking and biking, but it also includes jogging and using a wheelchair or scooter. It does not include personal vehicles like cars or trucks, but for our purposes we are also interested in the use of e-bikes, electric scooters, and powered wheelchairs. We are interested in recreational, fitness and social use, as well as in active transportation that gets you to work, shopping, appointments, or other to other destinations. 

This summer we will listen and learn, and over the winter we will explore possible changes to make Brandon better. Next summer we plan to install a pop-up demonstration project that will put into practice some of what was learned. Finally, we will invite other communities here to experience the difference we were able to make.

What’s happening?

First, we are listening to Brandon residents to understand the specific needs, wants, and barriers here. To do this, we will combine an active social media listening campaign with in-person public engagement and dedicated focus groups. We will come away with a number of possible areas (physical or other) where a targeted intervention could make a positive difference.

Next, we will then take that understanding to a global conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where we will be exposed to world-class solutions and knowledge sharing. We will attempt to learn what proven solutions match the identified needs in Brandon, taking into consideration our limited timeline and budget.

We will bring back options from Copenhagen and suggest possibilities that could be translated to the Brandon context. We will share possibilities on social media and reconvene our focus groups to test possibilities, ensure they would meet the needs we expect them to, and that they are both wanted and supported in the community.

Then, we will decide on an approach for a pop-up demonstration project, we will install it, and we will monitor public response and use of the project to iterate and improve on it.

Finally, we will host a public celebration and conference to gather the community and show off the demonstration project, and to share our experience with creating it. We will archive this knowledge through video and text posts on a dedicated website that will be a resource for Brandon and other communities.

Why this project?

Active transportation and public space initiatives are increasingly seen as a solution to improve the health of the planet and people; yet, some places and groups have had limited involvement in processes of planning, actively using, and evaluating active transportation and public space initiatives. Much of the research on active transportation and public spaces has focused on larger urban centres leaving smaller cities like Brandon with questions about what strategies and lessons apply to us as we develop our own action plans. In addition, active transportation initiatives and research often shows the greatest health benefits for those who already experience health advantages due to their income, education, age and access to resources. This demonstrates the need for an equity lens in the process of planning public space initiatives and research that promotes health for all.

Seeking to address these gaps the goal of this planning grant is to situate the city of Brandon, Manitoba, as a model city for active transportation and public space initiatives in the context of other smaller cities and develop collaborative approaches to ensuring meaningful health impacts through an equity lens.

This collaborative project has four objectives:

  1. enhance collaboration and communication among stakeholder groups;
  2. look at the transferability and application of best practices from Copenhagen taking into account who lives in Brandon and what is the nature of the city;
  3. co-develop a demonstration project and a process for evaluating successful active transportation initiatives through a series of stakeholder engagement events;
  4. host a conference to share knowledge and develop a research team for a future CIHR project grant.

This planning process will promote the inclusion of people of all ages, abilities, cultural and socioeconomic background in healthy urban policy for smaller cities.