Pathways to Healthy Cities

Co-Investigators: Jill Baumgartner and Chris Barrington-Leigh, with Brian Robinson (McGill) and an international team of researchers led by Imperial College London
Funding: Wellcome Trust

colorful buildings with urban gardens and green-scapingThree McGill faculty, including Chris Barrington-Leigh and Jill Baumgartner of the IHSP, are playing lead roles in a major new international research partnership exploring ways of reducing health inequalities in cities around the world.

Coordinated from London and funded with £10m (C$17.5 million) from Wellcome Trust, with a global network of expert scientists and practitioners the partnership comprises two integrated urban health projects. Their aim is to provide the evidence needed to help policy makers and governments take actions to improve the health of their populations and the planet, in a way that minimizes health inequality.

The researchers are working closely with 10 cities to gather local data and then use computer modelling to test policies, such as safe low-income housing or large public transport systems, to see whether they are likely to be successful.

Over half the world’s population now lives in cities, and by 2050 this is expected to rise to 70%. People who live in cities are on average healthier than those living rurally, mainly due to the concentration of economic activity and extensive public services. However, as more and more people are exposed to city life, these services are stretched and stressed, and the urban poor fall behind.

Around the world, air pollution contributes to millions of premature deaths. Many urban populations do not have adequate access to safe water and sanitation or decent housing, and are vulnerable to infectious disease and natural disasters.

Impacts of urban growth on the planet

The planet is also affected by urban growth. More people means more waste to manage, more cars and associated emissions, and a greater demand for water, electricity and gas. Researchers want to develop solutions that can benefit people without straining the planet, paving the way for a more sustainable future.

The cities involved in the new research partnership are: London (UK), Rennes (France), Beijing and Ningbo (China), Nairobi and Kisumu (Kenya), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Vancouver (Canada), and Accra and Tamale (Ghana).

McGill researchers to assess social equity, environmental health

McGill researchers with expertise in environmental health and social equity play a major role in the international team. Geography professor Brian E. Robinson, is coordinating Social Science activities on the project and, in conjunction with Christopher Barrington-Leigh, a professor in the Institute of Health and Social Policy (IHSP) and the McGill School of Environment, will lead policy analysis, modelling, and evaluating social inequality across the project sites. Jill Baumgartner, a professor of Epidemiology and the IHSP, co-leads the Health component of the project, and will assess health impacts of various policy decisions and intervention programs across project sites.

Reducing urban inequalities is fundamental to improving health, enhancing resilience, and achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. This new partnership will create a world-leading research hub for urban health, addressing many of the unanswered questions that have previously stood in the way of progress.

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