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Assessing inequalities in wellbeing at a neighbourhood scale in low-middle-income-country secondary cities and their implications for long-term livability

Evidence of what is needed to deliver urban wellbeing is largely absent from the global south. This paper contributes to filling this knowledge gap through a novel interdisciplinary mixed methods study undertaken in two rapidly changing cities in Thailand and Kenya using qualitative surveys, subjective wellbeing and stress measurements, and spatial analysis of urban infrastructure distribution.

Nyayo Gardens in Nakuru. Photo: SEI

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Cinderby S., Archer, D., Mehta, V.K, Neale, C., Opiyo, R., Pateman, R.M., Muhoza, C., Adeline, C. and Tukhanen, H. (2021) Assessing Inequalities in Wellbeing at a Neighbourhood Scale in Low-Middle-Income-Country Secondary Cities and Their Implications for Long-Term Livability. Front. Sociol. 6:729453.

To ensure future sustainability, cities need to consider concepts of livability and resident wellbeing alongside environmental, economic and infrastructure development equity. The current rapid urbanization experienced in many regions is leading to sustainability challenges, but also offers the opportunity to deliver infrastructure supporting the social aspects of cities and the services that underpin them alongside economic growth.

Unfortunately, evidence of what is needed to deliver urban wellbeing is largely absent from the global south. We find the absence of basic infrastructure (including waste removal, water availability and quality) unsurprisingly causes significant stress for city residents. However, once these services are in place, smaller variations (inequalities) in social (crime, tenure) and environmental (noise, air quality) conditions begin to play a greater role in determining differences in subjective wellbeing across a city.

Our results indicate that spending time in urban greenspaces can mitigate the stressful impacts of city living even for residents of informal neighborhoods. Our data also highlights the importance of places that enable social interactions supporting wellbeing–whether green or built.

These results demonstrate the need for diversity and equity in the provision of public realm spaces to ensure social and spatial justice. These findings strengthen the need to promote long term livability in LMIC urban planning alongside economic growth, environmental sustainability, and resilience.

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SEI authors

Steve Cinderby

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

Diane Archer

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Asia

Romanus Opiyo
Romanus Opiyo

Programme Leader

SEI Africa

Rachel Pateman


SEI York

Cassilde Muhoza

Research Fellow

SEI Africa

Heidi Tuhkanen
Heidi Tuhkanen

Senior Expert (Green and Circular Economic Transformations Unit)

SEI Tallinn

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