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Urban Resilience and Health: A Burgeoning Initiative in the Yale Planetary Health Network

May 09, 2022
by Jeannette Ickovics

More than one-half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, projected to increase to 70% by 2050. City residents report greater life satisfaction and have greater access to services, technology, and economic opportunities than non-urban dwellers (World Bank, 2020). Despite these benefits, urban residents face substantial challenges to health and well-being, including crime, violence, chronic stress, and exposure to environmental risks such as air pollution, urban heat islands, and less access to green space. Obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are more prevalent (OECD/EU, 2020). Within cities, those living in concentrated poverty and/or with poor access to health and social services are disproportionately vulnerable, resulting in profound inequities. Additionally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2022) concludes that the health, lives, and livelihoods of urban residents are compromised by climate change, impacting disproportionately urban communities that are most economically and socially marginalized. Establishing the NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative Strategic Framework (2021), NIH articulated direct (e.g., extreme weather, air pollution) and indirect (e.g., water/food scarcity, infectious diseases, population displacement) effects of climate on health and health equity, including greater risks for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, cancers, reproductive/developmental effects, malnutrition, mental health/neurological disorders, vector-borne/zoonotic diseases, and extreme weather-related morbidity/mortality.

Given elevated and unequally distributed risks in urban areas, cities must be on the frontline to promote health and health equity. Representing nearly 100 cities worldwide, the Resilient Cities Network reaches 220 million urban dwellers. They are dedicated to accelerating sustainable development via ensuring social equity, promoting climate resilience, and enabling economic value. Network cities are in low-, medium- and high-income countries across five geographical regions: Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe/Middle East, Latin America/Caribbean, and North America. This provides opportunities for broad engagement and discernment of solutions specific to city-level resources and/or regions as well as solutions that could be scaled up.

The Yale Planetary Health Network convenes faculty from across campus, with a focus on the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends. Recently, a small group of Yale faculty, led by Jeannette Ickovics, PhD, joined the Yale Planetary Health Network with the explicit goal of bringing together faculty and students from across the institution with global leaders in the Resilient Cities Network. Through these new efforts, we hope to cultivate transdisciplinary collaboration, research, and training opportunities, with the explicit goal of improving health and health equity while addressing climate resilience in cities around the world.

Submitted by Alyssa Cruz on May 09, 2022