Urban Health

By 2050, more than 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers at the Mailman School are aware of the opportunities posed by urbanization: helping cities to live up to their potential and creating conditions for people in urban areas to lead healthy lives. The School’s Urban+Health Initiative brings together experts and partners to research and advocate for policies that both protect the health of living people cities today and build the foundations for healthy, sustainable cities of the future. To achieve their goals, the Initiative aims to look at the needs of entire cities, especially underserved vulnerable populations, to be guided by evidence, and to work with communities to form joint commitments and action plans.

Urban+Health experts are researching new ways to tackle the global issues caused by urbanization. Patrick Kinney, professor of Environmental Health Sciences, works to predict the future health impacts that climate change and air pollution may have on cities to help policy-makers form intervention strategies. Lynn Freedman, professor of Population and Family Health, is exploring new models for maternal health programs in urban slum settings. In Rio das Pedras, located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Gina Lovasi assesses health profiles within an informal urban settlement. In China, the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health is measuring the impact of air pollution on cognitive development in children. Stephen Morse has partnered with teams at USAID to understand the effects of urbanization on the emergence and spread of infectious diseases and to develop new risk assessment methods.

Here in New York City, researchers are working to better understand local urbanization challenges. Andrew Rundle studies how neighborhoods can shape our health: looking at everything from food environments to walkability scores, and from proximity to parks to air quality. Helena Duch is developing a school readiness program and help bridge the achievement gap for urban students. Robert Fullilove, professor of Sociomedical Sciences, helps lead the Bard Prison Initiative, which creates opportunities for incarcerated populations to earn college degrees to reduce recidivism.

All cities are different, but many of the characteristics that ensure a healthy urban population are similar. The Urban+Health Initiative works across sectors and city limits to make the vision for sustainable, healthy cities a reality around the world.