How do we create the Healthy Cities of the future?

Friday, 12 August 2016

Healthy cities

In February 2016, Oxford Brookes revealed four new research projects which have received Newton Funding to support science and innovation partnerships that promote the economic development and welfare of targeted developing countries.

Dr Tim Jones, Senior Research Fellow for Oxford Brookes’ School of Built Environment is undertaking a research project in collaboration with three universities in Brazil. Tim explains how the research will attempt to “develop new approaches to mobility planning that seek to address health inequalities within urban areas.”

Since the initiation of the World Health Organization’s Healthy Cities movement over thirty years ago there have been increased efforts to understand how the urban environment affects health outcomes and can produce more equitable health benefits.

A key concern is the way in which the physical fabric of cities affects urban mobility and how this relates to health and wellbeing.

Built environmental design supportive of walking and cycling ('active mobility') could help to promote moderate physical activity as part of daily travel routines, delay biological ageing and age-related conditions and improve overall health and wellbeing.

In the developing countries of the Global South however, the rapid growth in private motorization and the lack of value placed on walking and cycling means the association between environmental attributes and active mobility are more complex. This is having a significant impact on the urban poor and low-income groups who already engage in, and rely on, walking and cycling (and public transport) to meet their daily travel needs.

Built environmental design supportive of walking and cycling ('active mobility') could help to promote moderate physical activity as part of daily travel routines, delay biological ageing and age-related conditions and improve overall health and wellbeing.

Dr Tim Jones, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Brookes University

The trend in the developed countries of the Global North meanwhile, and particularly in countries like the UK, is towards a decrease in physical activity and this is associated with more widespread private car use, environments which can lead to increased obesity and greater mechanisation in the home, workplace and public places. The implementation of healthy urban mobility as part of the broader Healthy Cities concept, therefore, presents serious challenges in both the Global South and Global North and requires different approaches towards its realisation.

The focus of the BRAZIL-UK Healthy Urban Mobility (HUM) research is on understanding the impact of personal (im)mobility on both individual and community health and wellbeing of different neighbourhoods in Brazil and in the UK, and developing a participatory approach to support and develop healthy urban mobility and to address health inequalities and injustice.

The investigation will use a mixed method approach comprising five specific field research components. These are:

  1. spatial mapping to understand the physical and built environment context in which mobility takes place
  2. a social survey to capture mobility and health and wellbeing profiles of selected communities
  3. in-depth biographic interviews to understand role of past experiences of mobility and the rationale behind selected modes of mobility - 'mobile trajectories'
  4. micro-ethnographies through mobile interviews to capture contemporary everyday experience of being (im)mobile
  5. a participatory approach to involve the local community in identifying problems and solutions for healthy urban mobility and community wellbeing.

The work will focus in three Brazilian cities and one UK city: Brazilia (Federal State), Florianopolis (State of Santa Catarina), Porto Alegre (State of Rio Grande do Sul) and Oxford (Southern England).

These are chosen because of their different spatial and demographic characteristics and the challenges they are facing in relation to promoting healthy urban mobility.

Empirical research will be timed such that it will be conducted in parallel in both Brazil and the UK using exactly the same approach and methods so that the UK-BRAZIL multidisciplinary team can engage in co-learning and knowledge exchange and more specifically (a) evaluate the overall approach and methodologies; (b) compare datasets between cities and between Brazil and UK; and, (c) evaluate potential policies and delivery models to promote healthy urban mobility in different contexts.

Through the combination of novel research methods to experiment and assess and actively involve communities and stakeholders in active dialogue and mutual learning we hope to develop new approaches to mobility planning that seek to address health inequalities within urban areas.

Further information on the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development is available online. Find out more about the School of Built Environment is available on the department's webpages.