CIHR Healthy Cities Research Initiative update

Dear colleagues,

As we kick off the new year, we wanted to share some updates on CIHR’s Healthy Cities Research Initiative (HCRI) and our reflections on what COVID-19 means for cities in Canada and around the world. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated stark inequities that pre-date this pandemic, causing the first rise in global poverty levels since 1990. Worldwide, it has been estimated that 90% of all reported COVID-19 cases are in urban areas, and according to a recent report, this summer in Canada the largest 20 cities reported 67% of all cases and 75% of deaths despite accounting for only 42% of the country’s population. These numbers are higher still for Indigenous and racialized individuals; for example, in Ontario, the rate of infection is reported to be three times higher in the most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods compared to the least diverse neighbourhoods, with residents experiencing unemployment, food shortages, and difficulty making ends meet. As we look towards recovery, it is clear that improving health and equity within cities will be critical to building back better.

Although COVID-19 paused many activities in 2020 as we sought to address the growing pandemic, the Institutes that lead the HCRI are more committed than ever to supporting research that harnesses the health promoting potential of cities. Since 2017, we have funded 62 projects for a total investment of almost $2.5 million on topics ranging from housing and transportation to physical activity and age-friendly communities. We have also finalized plans to invest an additional $40 million over the next seven years.

Despite delays on some of our planned activities in 2020, we still managed to convene our Federal Table on Healthy Cities which coordinates action across 12 federal government departments and has been made even more important due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have funded several fellowships on housing and health as well as those that align with the HCRI goals and objectives, and relaunched awards on data analysis. We also successfully advocated for the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) to focus its 2022 funding call on interventions in urban environments to reduce non-communicable disease risks. Perhaps most notably, we have now entered the final stage of our Healthy Cities Research Training Platform competition – which will award the first ever Tri-Council training platform this summer. This platform will deliver a national training initiative focused on building capacity among Canadian researchers to engage in high quality, impactful research on how to design, implement and scale innovative, solution-based interventions in a variety of urban contexts. We are proud of this work but our efforts do not stop there.

While we may have been quiet over this past year, we have not been idle, and we are excited about everything that is yet to come. Our Implementation Science Team Grants which were set to launch in 2020 are being prepared for launch in the coming months. We have also recently launched an Applied Public Health Chair in Sex, Gender and Healthy Cities, further building capacity in this important area of research. The HCRI Linkage tool continues to gain interest from potential applicants and partners. We are developing plans for our first ever HCRI Annual Meeting – set to take place later this calendar year – and looking forward to connecting the amazing researchers and implementation partners we have engaged over the past four years. We are preparing for re-launches of our foundational funding opportunities including fellowships and planning grants. Finally, we are examining new opportunities with partners to further extend the reach, scale and impact of the HCRI and research funded through this initiative.

We are looking forward to 2021 being the biggest year yet for the HCRI, and we appreciate all of the support and excitement that the research community has shared with us. Please feel free to share this email with any friends and colleagues who may be interested in hearing this update. There are so many great opportunities planned for 2021 – we hope you will stay tuned for what is next!

Thank you,

Steven J. Hoffman JD PhD LLD | @shoffmania
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Population & Public Health

Carrie Bourassa, BA MA PhD@goaliegirlmom31
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health

Rick Glazier MD MPH C0.CFP FCFP@RickGlazier1
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Health Services and Policy Research

Karim Khan MD PhD MBA@KarimKhan_IMHA
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis

Norman Rosenblum MD FRCPC@normrosenblum
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism, and Diabetes

Jane Rylett PhD@j_rylett
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Aging

Cara Tannenbaum MD MSc@CIHRIGH
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Gender and Health

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