Growing inequalities, strained infrastructure, acute housing crises, unhealthy lifestyles and extreme heat are just some of the major challenges affecting the health and wellbeing of people living in urban environments, say the editors of a new series of papers on urban planning and development for health.
The papers appear in a special issue of Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, focused on urban planning and development for health. The issue has been produced in partnership with the Healthy Populations and Environments Platform within Maridulu Budyari Gumal (the Sydney Partnership for Health, Education, Research and Enterprise, SPHERE), an academic health science partnership focused on tackling big health challenges.
In an editorial, the issue’s guest editors – led by Professor Jason Prior of the University of Technology Sydney and including international experts – highlight the interconnectedness between people’s health and urban planning, development and management. Growing challenges facing people living in urban environments are being further exacerbated by a rapid succession of shocks, such as drought, bushfires, storms, floods, heatwaves and global pandemics, they say.
They call for a greater focus on creating urban spaces that help to promote health and wellbeing for everyone, as highlighted by the wide-ranging papers in the issue.
One research paper describes a surveillance system for heat illness presentations to emergency departments piloted in Western Sydney hospitals. It revealed that most people were exposed to heat through work or outdoor activities, but that older people exposed to it in their home environment may be under-reported. Those suffering from heat exposure in an outdoor environment often underestimated their risk and specific messaging strategies are needed to reach this group, it suggests.
Another paper looks at how LGBTQIA+ people experience public spaces in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Based on five criteria, the authors find that Melbourne is the most proactive city in terms of creating safe, inclusive and welcoming environments for LGBTQIA+ people, followed by Sydney. The paper gives a breakdown of the best-performing Local Government Areas and puts forward a new framework for creating more inclusive local areas and public spaces.
Other papers look at:
- Research into health outcomes across the life course from exposure to everyday urban environments during the first 2000 days of life
- The therapeutic benefits for survivors of the Stolen Generations living in urban areas in reconnecting with their cultural landscapes
- Developing a framework for health services to assess and address the unequal impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations
- The impact of strategies to increase access to healthy foods in high-income countries, including Australia
- A pilot project to assess how the redevelopment of a large social housing estate in inner Sydney has affected the health of its residents.
The Editorial calls for action based on three principles to guide the development of new research and initiatives to promote urban planning and development for health:
- Collaboration between all relevant sectors, including the urban planning, development and health sectors
- Existing urban health research evidence needs to be synthesised, assessed and used to support change
- Addressing inequalities must be key to planning healthy urban environments.
While some areas have a well-developed research base, others – such as the impact of climate change on health – are still in their infancy, they say. There is also a need to strengthen the evidence around the way we plan for emergencies in urban environments, such as disease outbreaks or extreme weather events, the authors suggest.