Centre for Urban Health Initiatives news

Friday, September 5, 2008 2:44:00 AM

Research News


By Brenda Ross

The University of Toronto's Centre for Urban Health Initiatives (CUHI) has developed a new Environmental Health Justice Research Interest Group (RIG) with the goal of assessing, understanding and addressing the relationship between social inequality and environmental health. The term ‘health' is added to environmental justice to emphasize the important, but under-scrutinized role for public health in addressing environmental variables as a key determinant of population health. Environmental health justice can be defined as the process for enabling marginalized populations to improve health and environmental systems in ways that both redress past and present discrimination, to improve access to environmental benefits, as well as to promote equity in access to information and decision making that optimizes the conditions of their health and well being (Steger, 2007).

In addition to supporting the Environmental Health Justice RIG agenda, CUHI has provided seed grant funding for two pilot studies for RIG associates. The first funded project is to assess the capacity and priorities for community action for environmental health in the Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale, while the second project is to design an embodied, immersive and participative experience that allows participants to understand implicitly how their own actions contribute to global warming and how those actions might be changed as a consequence.

This RIG is a research collaboration between researchers from seven Canadian universities and has established and developing partnerships with a variety of policy stakeholders, including Health Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Health & Long Term Care, Peel Pubic Health and Toronto Public Health.  Community stakeholders include the Environmental Justice Organizing Initiative, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and St. Christopher House.

Reference cited:
Steger, T (ed.) 2007. Making the Case for Environmental Justice in Central and Eastern Europe. Center for Environmental Policy and Law, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.

If you are interested in getting involved with the Environmental Health Justice RIG or would like more information, please contact RIG co-leads Dr. Blake Poland, at blake.poland@utoronto.ca or Dr. Cheryl Teelucksingh at teeluck@ryerson.ca.

Brenda Ross is Director of Research at the Centre for Urban Health Initiatives.


By Alexis Kane Speer and James Dunn

There is an increasing awareness that neighbourhood attributes of social, economic, service and built environments influence health. The objective of a recent CUHI study was to investigate the relationship between access to public space and self-rated health status, specifically those aspects of public space which foster place attachment and may address urban health concerns in multicultural communities.  M.A. candidate Alexis Kane Speer and Professor James Dunn analyzed data collected from a community health survey conducted with residents in four diverse Toronto neighbourhoods with contrasting built forms for a project titled Space for Healthy Communities: An Exploration of the Social Pathways between Public Space and Health.

The investigation was framed by a model that conceptualized the pathways between the lived experience of space and health as influenced by the physical and the mental dimensions of space. The lived dimension of space impacts an individual's likelihood of establishing place attachment. The model also emphasized that there are many different ways to experience the same space.

The findings partially supported the model used. The results suggested that indicators of both physical and mental space are related to lived space. Furthermore, the results support the hypothesis that there is a relationship between the lived dimension of space and health, its most important impacts being on mental health.  Mental health appears to be the outcome most affected by indicators of place attachment. Several of these relationships were found more commonly in the densest populated of the four neighbourhoods. Variations were found between foreign- and Canadian-born residents, which suggest that each subgroup values different elements of public space. Nearly one quarter of participants indicated that public space concerns were among their top neighbourhood priorities, which suggests that residents are aware that neighbourhood public spaces play an important role in their local social environment.

A detailed report on the project will be available on the Centre for Urban Health Initiatives (http://www.utoronto.ca/cuhi) website in November, 2008.

Alexis Kane Speer is an M.A. candidate of the Department of Geography and the Centre Coordinator at the Centre for Urban Health Initiatives. James Dunn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Research Scientist at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health. For more information, please email alexis.kanespeer@utoronto.ca or james.dunn@utoronto.ca.


Founded in 2004, and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute of Population and Public Health, CUHI supports scholarship in relevant and emerging areas of urban health, focusing to date on neighbourhoods, food security & urban agriculture, physical environments, youth sexual health, chronic disease prevention & management and environmental health justice. The research development centre brings together researchers from different disciplines, provides training and mentoring for research in urban health relationships, creates opportunities for knowledge exchange, and builds partnerships between researchers, policy-makers and communities. 

CUHI offers research interest group seed grant funding, faculty release time, student and centre supports for collaborative projects that explore the physical and social environmental factors that impact the health of residents. Seed grants assist research projects in their development phase by funding pilot projects, literature reviews, testing of innovative methodologies and use of secondary data.  In addition, CUHI hosts public seminars such as the Spotlight on Urban Health Seminar Series in addition to other dissemination forums. 

For more information on CUHI, its projects and activities, please visit: http://www.utoronto.ca/cuhi/ or email cuhi.admin@utoronto.ca.