Rapidly-growing cities represent unique challenges and opportunities. Unplanned growth often outpaces infrastructure development and occurs at the expense of a city’s ecological foundations, undermining residents’ wellbeing and the city’s sustainability.

The SEI Initiative on City Health and Well-being will use novel approaches to investigate how evolving cities are affecting the well-being of residents and how this interacts with the overall health of city systems: What makes a city healthy for its residents? Could citizens be actively engaged in monitoring the health of their city? These are some of the central questions informing our initiative case study activities in Asia and Africa.

Novel methods of data generation and collection will be employed across four interconnected activities in two case study location (Nakuru in Kenya and Udon Thani in Thailand). These activities are:

  1. Understanding the impact of urban forms’ impact on health and wellbeing
  2. Co-designing urban citizen science monitoring
  3. Urban metabolism and participatory modelling
  4. Governance for greater urban equity and inclusion

The research will contribute to a rethink of urban development practices. The knowledge generated through this action research and boundary partner engagement will inform sustainable and participatory planning for urban environments.

The new evidence we generate will be aimed at guiding policy recommendations to equitably maximize the well-being of urban populations whilst minimizing resource consumption and without undermining their resilience.

Environmental monitoring with citizen science in Nakuru, Kenya

Can citizen-led monitoring help local governments manage cities better and improve services to people? This was the question CHeW investigated through environmental monitoring using citizen science techniques.

SEI supported environmental leaders from a community in Nakuru, Kenya using a data collection app called Epicollect to map out environmental challenges facing their local area. EpiCollect enables questionnaires to be created which are then accessible on mobile phones. User responses to questions are linked to their locations using the phone’s GPS.

Between April and June 2019, a group of 15 Environment Champions surveyed their neighbourhood (called Free Area) taking pictures of problem areas and documenting the status of them over the time-period. The SEI team helped co-organize information collection activities and afterwards shared findings back to the community and local government representatives including public health officers, County Government and County Assembly, Nakuru Water and Sewerage Company (NAWASCO), ward administrators, garbage collectors and the Area Chief, during a workshop held in mid-2019.

The survey brought a focus on the dominant issues which were related to waste (open dumping) and water and drainage (leaking/broken water and sewer pipes, and open or unsafe manholes). The data from the survey was also mapped so that users are able to identify where the problems were and to help the relevant authorities resolve them.

Nakuru, Kenya is a town of about 500,000 people, northwest of Nairobi on the shores of Lake Nakuru. The image above shows a snapshot of the environmental monitoring by the people of Free Area neighborhood. Click on the image to open an interactive visualization (on a separate webpage).

This is one example of how, through the CheW initiative, SEI is striving to catalyze citizen-led activities within rapidly growing cities and to embed them into improved urban governance practices.

Ontological frameworks applied to Smart City research and policy

As part of the City Health And Wellbeing (CHEW) initiative, Dr. Arkalgud Ramprasad was invited to present his work on ontological frameworks applied to research, policy, and practice. CHeW is particularly interested in how such a framework can be applied to sustainable cities.

Dr. Ramprasad is Professor Emeritus in Information and Decision Science at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and the Director of the Ramaiah Public Policy Centre in Bangalore, India.  His talk, entitled “Systematic Policymaking Using Ontologies: How to Make the ‘Elephant’ Dance”was hosted in Davis, California by SEI’s Vishal Mehta. A shortened version of his presentation, focusing on Smart Cities, is available here.