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Neighbourhoods as Habitat

In urban areas, human health and wellness is determined by many different and interacting factors. Traditionally, there has been a great deal of focus on how social and economic factors, such as crime, income, and age, influence health outcomes; however, more recently, studies have begun to examine how both the natural and built environments influence human health and wellness in urban areas. These studies have demonstrated that green space, habitat structure, biodiversity, and their associated ecosystem services are important to both the physical and mental health of people; however, the strength of these relationships and how and why they vary is not well understood.

This project aims to bridge the fields of health, social, and ecosystem science by integrating data and analytical tools from each of the different fields with the goal of creating spatially explicit human health predictions and management options for neighborhood design. Using the City of Calgary as a case study, this project will analyze mental health data alongside social, economic, and environmental metrics at the community scale to identify patterns and linkages between human variables and the components of natural and built ecosystems. Our key research questions are:

  1. Can patterns in the incidence of mental health conditions with known associations to the environment be predicted at the community scale by the spatial patterning of landscape features?
  2. Do these associations differ amongst urban communities?
  3. How are these differences related to and/or mediated by socio-economic variables?

These analyses will be used to characterize the communities people live in and to better understand what mental health outcomes are associated with community typologies that appear to be health-promoting. This will allow for the identification of urban planning practices that may need to be re-considered or applied in the design of new communities, or in the retrofitting of existing communities, if more holistic planning principles that include human health considerations are integrated into community design. We also hope that this study will provide an example of integrative research that bridges the fields of public health and environmental sciences.