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 uses 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 have been employed across four interconnected activities in two case study locations (Nakuru in Kenya and Udon Thani in Thailand). These activities are:
The research is contributing 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 while minimizing resource consumption and without undermining their resilience.
In 2022, the Initiative enters its third phase. In Phase 2, SEI investigated the links between urban environments and wellbeing using a range of low-cost environmental sensors. Through activities with local residents, we developed an understanding of their preferences for urban greening, and the potential benefits and barriers to implementing this. We worked with local stakeholders to explore how these findings can be integrated into urban planning, which enabled residents in our case study cities to engage more effectively with their local and national government on services to improve their living conditions.
In Phase 3 we will complete the analysis of data and reporting of these important and novel findings. We will also bring our methods, approaches and case studies together into an urban ‘toolbox’ that can be used widely by people involved in urban planning, such as city authorities. Through a series of workshops, we will explore stakeholder’s preferred content and format for such a toolbox, to ensure that it meets their needs. Other SEI urban-related tools will also be included where appropriate. We will strengthen relationships with our local and international partners, and also build new networks, to ensure that our results and methods are used widely to maximize health and wellbeing equity.
The City Health and Well-being Podcast Series is an engaging exploration of the intersection between rapid urban growth, resident well-being, and the sustainability of city systems. Hosted by Vishal Mehta and featuring SEI researchers, this captivating series sheds light on the complexities and challenges faced by cities in our rapidly urbanizing world.
As an outcome of the SEI Initiative on City Health and Well-being (CHeW), this podcast series serves as a platform to explore innovative solutions and strategies for creating more equitable, livable, and enjoyable cities that prioritize the health and well-being of their inhabitants.
In each episode, Vishal Mehta engages in thought-provoking conversations with SEI colleagues who have conducted extensive research to address these pressing challenges as part of the SEI Initiative on City Health and Well-being. Together, they delve into the intricacies of urban growth, well-being, and sustainability, offering valuable insights and perspectives on shaping healthier and happier cities for the future.
Find out more about the City Health and Well-being Podcast episodes and where to stream it to access the wealth of knowledge and expertise from this Initiative.
The SEI Urban Toolbox for Liveable Cities is a comprehensive resource designed to address the challenges of urban development while promoting equity, sustainability, and residents’ well-being. This toolbox, developed by SEI as part of the City Health and Well-being (CHeW) Initiative, offers a range of tools, methodologies, frameworks, and case studies for urban stakeholders to support decision-making in urban contexts.
The Urban Toolbox covers various thematic areas, including residents’ well-being, neighbourhood conditions, environmental quality and ecosystem services, and cross-cutting issues.Tools within these themes focus on aspects such as access to water, mobility, livelihoods, and vulnerability, as well as addressing challenges like crime, sanitation, and tourism.
Hosted on the weADAPT platform, the Urban Toolbox facilitates collaboration, knowledge exchange, and networking among urban stakeholders. It allows for the sharing of experiences, case studies, and best practices, fostering inclusivity and supporting collective action.
The Urban Toolbox is a living resource that will be continually updated with new tools as they emerge. This dynamic nature ensures that the toolbox remains relevant and up-to-date, addressing evolving urban development challenges. Join the community of urban stakeholders, contribute your insights, and take steps towards advancing equitable and sustainable urban development!
To explore the SEI Urban Toolbox for Liveable Cities and access its valuable resources, tools, and case studies, visit hosting platform weADAPT, and read the Urban Toolbox Brief.
Senior Research Fellow
Senior Research Fellow
Senior Expert (Environmental Management Programme)
Research Support Group Manager
Impact and Learning Officer
Senior Expert Researcher
SEI Latin America
Green spaces and walkable urban pathways are important for residents’ physical and mental health, as well as having ecological benefits, and can also help to reach goals for sustainable and healthy urban lifestyles. However, it is a big challenge to conserve green spaces in Udon Thani because of competing demands on land and finance.
We asked Udon Thani’s residents about their experience of walking around the neighbourhood and what challenges they face when doing so and asked them for suggestions on what would improve their walking habits. We used two interactive methods – photovoice and mental mapping – to understand the enablers and barriers to walking.
Read more in this feature:
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.
Before data collection (left) and an example completed map for one neighbourhood (right).
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.
Fluorosis is a widespread disease caused by excess Fluoride intake. The World Health Organization considers Fluoride as one of 10 chemicals of major public health concern. Fluorosis impairs dental and skeletal health, child development, and has other health consequences. Excess Fluoride in drinking water is the most common cause.
Fluoride occurs naturally in certain mineral geologic formations around the world. The East African Rift Valley is one of the global hotspots and in Nakuru county (Kenya), effects of Fluorosis were found in over 75% of people tested at 2 health facilities.
In addition, emerging contaminants, including pharmaceuticals in water bodies, are increasingly impacting environmental and human health. Exposure and impacts of these are less clearly understood.
A workshop was held on 18th June 2021, with participants drawn from Kenya (Nakuru), India, UK and USA. Funded by the University of York (UK), and organized by SEI, the workshop brought together international and local experts, practitioners and Nakuru city stakeholders with the aims of:
A summary workshop report will be available in Autumn 2021.
The workshop followed research undertaken during the earlier phase of the City Health and Well-being Initiative. A pilot survey was conducted by SEI (with support from Umande Trust) whereby water samples were taken from different neighborhoods in Nakuru to establish the levels of fluoride and other contaminants present.
Read about the study in the following feature.
What does a healthy and liveable city look like? The residents of the Northern Thailand city of Udon Thani provide their perspectives.
This video presents an overview of the community engagement activities undertaken in Nakuru. Activities include citizen science methods to identify important environment issues of concern to residents and also a campaign of water sampling to investigate levels of Fluoride in local water sources.
Fluorosis, caused by excess fluoride intake, affects millions of people around the world. SEI is working with local communities and Indian doctors on managing Fluorosis risk in Nakuru, Kenya. A combination of water supply management and community sampling is helping better understand the scale of the problem, and its solution.
Part 1 – describes the work undertaken by doctors from Ramaiah Medical Centre (India) transforming the health of school children in the village of Kaiwara. They explain how they identified that fluorosis was a serious health issue and how they succeeded in providing safe water to the village.
Part 2 describes the transfer of knowledge from doctors from Ramaiah Medical Centre (India) to the city of Nakuru, Kenya. Initial research carried out using citizen science to look at water quality identified high levels of Fluoride in groundwater. The doctors explain how lessons learnt from their reducing fluorosis in their village can be introduced and scaled-up in Nakuru.
Heidi Tuhkanen from SEI’s Tallinn Centre shares results of a study in two secondary cities in the global south which assessed the well-being benefits derived from urban spaces. The presentation was given at the ClimateExp0 conference: an event for researchers to showcase recent international research relevant to decisions being made at COP26 in November 2021.
This poster by Heidi Tuhkanen, Steve Cinderby and Annemarieke de Bruin was also presented at the ClimateExp0 conference.
What do practitioners need to be aware of when planning urban green infrastructure using digital tools to engage stakeholders? This session at the Nature of Cities Festival 2021 aimed to crowdsource ideas on how we can overcome the current limitations related to virtual stakeholder engagement. A series of mini-presentations highlighted a range of virtual methods of engaging with stakeholders (from lower-tech to higher tech) in projects related to urban greening, as well as some of the issues that have been raised related to ethics.
Also at the Nature of Cities Festival 2021, Diane Archer presented a microtalk on recognizing informal waste workers.
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.
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