Rapid and uncontrolled growth of towns and cities is a key feature of almost all countries in the Global South while health and social inequities are found within urban areas in the Global North. Understanding the relationships between urbanisation and health, and how health and wellbeing can be improved and protected within urban areas is a global challenge of our time.
The very nature of urbanisation necessitates a trans-disciplinary approach, with collaboration across disciplines producing synergistic results. For example, understanding the impacts of the urban environment on health requires inputs from environmental scientists, chemists, civil engineers, sociologists, public health and health system specialists and can result in solutions that address multiple problems and provide social, health and environmental benefits.
Further, interventions that address one aspect of urbanisation without fully considering wider impacts are destined to fail. This can be clearly seen in slum clearance strategies from South Africa to India and Brazil, where residents have been relocated to improved housing on the outskirts of cities, but with no consideration given to access to work or the impact on social cohesion, people quickly return to slum housing within the city to maintain their livelihood.
This importance of building sustainable cities is enshrined in UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11, with 193 countries signed up to meet 10 targets covering housing, transport, environmental impact as well as participatory planning and governance in urban areas.
The University of York with its long history of multi-disciplinary collaboration has a vital role to play in strengthening the evidence of how urbanisation impacts on health and what works in improving health and wellbeing in urban areas. The Urbanisation and Health Network builds connections among researchers from health, arts and humanities and the natural, physical and environmental sciences.
We seek ways to inspire and stimulate researchers to develop novel approaches drawing on the multiple perspectives and methods from across the disciplines. Our focus is on understanding the impacts of urbanisation on health and well-being and developing and testing approaches to improve health and well-being in urban areas in low and lower-middle-income countries, and poor neighbourhoods in high-income countries.
Our aims are to:
1. Promote understanding
We aim to promote, share and extend new methods used across disciplines to understand the impacts of urbanisation
2. Share knowledge
We strive to identify and share emerging new knowledge and available data sets on the influence of urbanisation on health and effective responses to inform joint publications and future grant proposals. The initial focus will be on sharing within the University of York, further resources and possibilities of sharing data with groups in other institutions will be explored.
We plan to extend our collaborations with academics from the global south and north, including linking with other networks in associated topics, to strengthen York’s existing and future work on urban health.
4. Support research
We plan to support early-career academics, postdoctoral and postgraduate researchers, and PhD researchers across departments and faculties with York to gain exposure to other disciplinary approaches, make connections with each other and with leading thinkers on the impacts of urbanisation.
Network members lead a variety of projects that look at urbanisation and health from different disciplinary perspectives, from the physical sciences and chemistry of pollution, the wider social determinants and social science of health inequities, urban governance, policy and health systems through to impacts on health risk factors and outcomes.