Sydney is often considered a significant city. With its natural beauty, iconic Pacific presence, and unique demographics, Sydney could lead the world in urban health development. The reality is, we lag behind many cities in Australia and the world when it comes to including health indicators in urban planning, economic development and design policies.
We are turning this around.
The HUE Collaboratory will be looking at how urban policy and governance in Sydney can lead to better health outcomes for local and global populations. We are supporting local health districts to translate health and environment research into policy and action. And we are working with public health academics, clinicians, social scientists, public health leaders and executives, and built and natural environment specialists to bring Sydney to the forefront of healthy urban environments.
There are 5 focus areas where we intend to deliver the greatest impact.
- Country and Health.
Indigenous health is intrinsically linked to the health of the land. ‘Country’ is equivalent to Indigenous identity. But colonisation has dramatically affected the relationship that Aboriginal people have to Country, particularly in major cities and urban areas. And this has dramatically affected Aboriginal health and wellbeing. We are working closely with Aboriginal communities to bring lasting change to our health. And re-imagining how we can embed everyday practices, like walking on and caring for Country, into urban design ecologies.
The notion of Country is central to all our work. Our research will blend Aboriginal storytelling with robust research that privileges the voices, lives and experiences of the Aboriginal community. We include these complex cultural perspectives into the healing pathways of urban planning frameworks, especially at a strategic level.
- Spatial analytics and cities.
We are accessing large datasets to understand how spatial structures determine health and people’s access to services. This is a significant amount of work, which will be shared with local health districts, public health networks and councils. It is intended that these services will use the data to influence health planning, prevention measures, and the design of built environments. The goal is to significantly improve health outcomes and access to services.
- Place-based health interventions and smart cities.
Sensors fitted to asthma inhalers quickly crowdsource poor air quality zones, and send alerts to sufferers which minimises the risk of attacks. The Internet of Urban Things has great potential in supporting individual and community action for health and well-being. There are also many innovative, place-bound translational health programs in existence. We will work alongside clinicians and community agents to experiment with how these existing trials and programs can be optimised for even greater patient outcomes.
- Targeting unhealthy urban environments.
We are identifying issues that affect Sydney’s urban environment, such as food deserts, hotspots of accumulated disadvantage, air pollution and poor quality housing. We aim to identify, change, and assess parameters in the urban environment that create, sustain, and hinder individual and population health. We are focused on identifying ways we can support positive health outcomes through partnerships with state departments, local governments, and elected representatives.
- Health precincts and health infrastructure users.
The creation of health innovation precincts is high on the NSW state agenda. Three of these are in the HUE Collaboratory service area (Campbelltown, Liverpool, and Kensington). This presents an opportunity to understand how the design and organisation of these areas influence the experience communities, patients and staff have of these spaces. We use a diverse toolbox of qualitative and quantitative research to better understand urban design concepts and how these impacts not only healthcare from an infrastructure level but also health outcomes at an individual level. We will identify concepts such as place identity, dwell space and diversity and look to unravel the web of connections that weaves the urban environment and its human participants together.
Our team brings together leaders with a variety of specialisms. It includes academics from our three partner universities and researchers from the two local health districts. Our experience spans public health, built environment, urban planning, geography, architecture, health services research, health political science, health economy, epidemiology, policy development and research management.
We will use our networks to partner with likeminded Sydney and NSW councils, government departments, industry, charities and non-profit organisations. And we will combine the strength of these partnerships to support healthier communities through joint programs, planning and integrated care.