Jason Prior on dilemmas in the planning, mapping and design for health and wellbeing

Dr Jason Prior, Associate Professor and Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology (UTS)

IMG_0639, Sydney presented an inspiring and thematically wide-ranging seminar on the understanding of the complex socio-spatial contexts for health and wellbeing. An audio-podcast of the event can now be found here.

Growing up on the streets – a full-time, three-year PhD studentship

Applications are invited for a full-time, three-year PhD studentship to undertake a research project entitled ‘The place of ‘spirituality’ in street children’s lived experiences: understanding the implications of religious and other spiritual beliefs and practices for growing up on the streets in Africa‘.  This PhD is part of a larger collaborative research project working across three African cities with street children as they grow up on the streets.



Towards interdisciplinary innovation in the design of urban care spaces

An interdisciplinary group of academics and practitioners came together on invitation of SDHI and the Geddes Institute of Urban Research at the University of Dundee to discuss the future of care space design in urban environments. The group consisted of architects, town planners, geographers, psychologist, artists, occupational therapists, computing specialists and nurses. As demographics are changing towards an increasingly aging population who predominantly live in single households there has also been a reduction in care home places and a move towards providing personal and health care in people’s home environments. At the symposium implications of these developments on the design of homes, services and age-friendly cities was examined. The role of urban greenspaces and technology was highlighted as much as the need to engage communities in planning efforts. Communication is essential and planers need to be cognisant of people traditionally left out of planning efforts (e.g. People with communication disabilities or learning disabilities). Also it is important to consider how different individuals and population groups experince and perceive their environment. The importance of links between home, hospital and community environments was highlighted and the need to assist ‘vulnerable’ citizens with the navigation of complex communities and services. We will provide further summaries and updates of this event soon.

Living with Environmental Change: Impressions

For two days, climate change experts, researchers from various social, natural and health-related disciplines, policymakers and agency representatives gathered in Birmingham on invitation of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) initiative which has been in existence since 2008 to discuss state-of-the science, policy priorities and recommendations. The conference, entitled ‘Supporting the Road to Adaptation’.

Irrespective of projections based on a 2 or 4 degree warming of the planet, rising sea levels, melting ice and global and local climate changes are under way. Much discussion has also focused on the role of human behaviour in affecting the extent and speed of climate change. Human activities have changed the odds of severe weather events. But there is also increasing awareness that linear prediction models have not accounted sufficiently for the complexity of human behaviour and environmental dynamics.

Current activities of the LWEC programme revolve around two central concepts ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’. Mitigation focused activities relate to strategies to prepare for and reduce the impact of climate and environmental change mostly based on the statistically modelled impact of climate change on the physical, natural and social environment; adaptation refers to ways of ‘living with’ the effects of climate change and navigating this changed world. 
Why should SDHI be concerned about environmental change? I would contend that there are several arguments that could be made for an increased engagement in the climate change agenda. Firstly, the understanding of both mitigation and adaptation mechanisms requires not only environmental science data but also social and behavioural science expertise. SDHI has a long track record of working across various social science disciplines, including human and social geography, health and social psychology, and anthropology. Researchers affiliated with the Institute can draw on a vast portfolio of research methodologies, including population statistics and data linkage, community mapping, survey data and qualitative explorations. 
Secondly, one of the key strands of the LWEC inititative and focus of the recent Health Protection Agency (2012) report are the health and wellbeing effects of climate change. The number of heat days has been increasing statistically over the past twenty years. Consider the implications for a growing number of younger and older adults with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Changes to the indoor and outdoor environment as a result of ozone level changes and humidity may be particularly challenging for people living in substandard housing, ultimately the less affluent and resourceful segments of society will bear the most profound and extensive impact on their health, wellbeing and opportunities for participation.  This is clearly at the heart of the ‘Building Bridges’ Strategy that SDHI has adopted in 2011, which positions health, wellbeing and participation at the centre of four overlapping areas of influence (economy, environment, demography and technology). SDHI has closely worked in partnership with the Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience (CECHR), a joint initiative between the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute (JHI), which has produced joint PhD studentships and knowledge exchange events at the intersection of natural hazards, environmental impact and health and wellbeing. Information is also exchanged at the level of Steering Group and Management Team between the two interdisciplinary platforms. 
Thirdly, there is rising awareness in the LWEC community for concepts such as ‘vulnerability’ linked to adaptation. SDHI has a substantial social dimensions focus on population groups that are being considered as ‘vulnerable’; i.e. people who are homeless, people with disabilities, dementia, long-term conditions, low literacy and/or limited material resources. We are arguing for a socio-relational understanding of ‘vulnerability’. In other words, not specific populations are vulnerable but environmental and social processes can render them vulnerable via lack of access to needed resources, compromised opportunities for influence and self-determination and social and physical marginalisation and exclusion.
Clearly, SDHI’s multi- and interdisciplinary research over the past 9 years into service systems, organisations, behaviours and marginalised populations including people with disabilities has and will continue to make substantial contributions in this area. 
Finally, in ‘Building Bridges’ we have laid out a commitment to linking local and global expertise. Over the past year we have seen an increasing number of academic exchanges and presentations with local and global research relevance. This is also in line with the ambitious strategic plan of the University of Dundee, entitled ‘Transformation’. 
We view climate and environmental change as one of the most significant challenges of the 21st Century, both from a basic scientific as well as from a social justice perspective. SDHI is committed to work in partnership with other organisations, research platforms and centres to inform through research and creative innovation the next Climate Change Risk Assessments (CCRA-2 and -3).

Geographer gives expert evidence to international panel

Dr Ed Hall, a lecturer in the Geography department at the University of Dundee and Associate Director of SDHI, has been giving evidence as an expert witness to a panel of world-leading academics reviewing the impact of geography research in the UK.

He was speaking at the Royal Geographic Society in London, where the Economic and Social Research Council have been holding an event as part of the International Benchmarking Review of UK Human Geography.

The high-profile review aims to highlight the standing and contribution of UK human geography against international benchmarks. It aims to identify ways of enhancing performance and capacity, and promoting future research agendas. The review will make recommendations for the Research Councils, funding organisations and, more broadly, for the discipline.

“I was very pleased to be asked to provide evidence to the panel,” said Dr Hall. “It is a fantastic opportunity to tell leading international academics, and others with a keen interest in geographical research, about the theoretical, methodological and research impact contributions that UK Human Geography makes to the development of the discipline.
“I will also take the opportunity to tell the panel about the groundbreaking research we do in Geography at Dundee, on children and youth, policing and crime, and disability and volunteering. Geography at Dundee was ranked joint top in Scotland in the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, clear evidence of our research quality.”

Dr Hall is a social geographer, with research interests in health, disability and social inclusion. He publishes widely in international peer-reviewed journals, most recently in ‘Geoforum’. His research is funded by ESRC, Scottish Government and Nuffield Foundation.

The International Benchmarking Review process is being undertaken by a panel of leading international experts, chaired by Professor David Ley, University of British Columbia, Canada, and includes academics, research funders, and users of human geography research.