Upcoming event: Mobilizing Cities for Mental Health

Wellesley Institute and CAMH’s Provincial System Support Program invite you to join a conversation about how we can work together to foster mental health and well-being in the city. Learn about how we can design a city where all Torontonians can thrive. Our guest speaker is Dr. Gary Belkin from ThriveNYC, an initiative that led the way for a bigger conversation about mental health as a public health service in New York City.

 The event is being held on Thursday July 27th from 6:30-8:30 at the Annex location of the Centre for Social Innovation. Please share with partners that you think would be interested.


Canadian Symposium on Sustainability Transitions

We at the DLSPH Healthier Cities and Communities Hub are pleased to be co-sponsoring the 2017 Canadian Sustainability Transitions Symposium, along with the Chaire de la recherche sur la transition écologique de l’UQAM, the Centre de recherche Organisations, Sociétés et Environnement (OSE), and the WHO Collaborating Centre and Health Promotion. The theme of this year’s conference is “Sustainability Transitions and Social Transformation”. 

The aim of our symposium is to explore theory and practice in Sustainability Transitions within the Canadian context, by supporting a dialogue between actors involved in Sustainability Transitions projects and research on Sustainability Transitions and its wide range of perspectives and approaches. More precisely, the aim is to showcase the role of this field of research for social transformation in Canada, and connect researchers from the field of Sustainability Transitions with those in other areas of sustainability research, thus encouraging and building opportunities for cross-fertilization. The aim is also for researchers, students and practitioners to exchange on action research in Sustainability Transitions.

The objectives of the symposium are as follows:

  • Explore the theory and practice of Sustainability Transitions and its application to social transformation in Canada
  • Create opportunities for cross-fertilization across linguistic, disciplinary and geographical barriers in the study of transitions
  • Encourage dialogue between practitioners and researchers on how to make transitions happen

We look forward to having you with us for this Canadian Sustainability Transitions Symposium! Click here to register.

Get ready for Symposium canadien sur la transition socioécologique / Canadian Symposium on Sustainability Transitions! | Jun 02 to June 02, 2017, Montréal Québec, Canada

Healthier Cities and Communities Hub Showcase

The Hub held a successful showcase event on February 10th, 2017, with an estimated 60 people in attendance on a snowy Friday afternoon. The event featured results of our first seed grant competition, as well as short presentations from community organizations from Toronto and elsewhere in southern Ontario. For a news story about the event that was featured on the website of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, click here.

About the Seed Grants

In the spring of 2015, with support from the Wellesley Institute, Toronto Public Health and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Healthier Cities & Communities Hub awarded nine seed grants to research teams comprised of community, public sector and university collaborators. The seed grant solutions-focused projects address a range of social determinants of health to improve health in Toronto and beyond, focusing on: creating resilient cities, the built environment and health, and place-based interventions. For more information: https://healthiercitiescommunities.com/our-seed-grant-initiative/.

About the Healthier Cities and Communities Hub

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health thematic concentration in Healthier Cities & Communities is solutions-focused: we go beyond describing health inequities and determinants to undertake research that generates evidence useful for intervening to improve health. Our work encompasses education, research, knowledge translation, and service activities focused on informing, designing and evaluating solutions for complex urban problems impacting population health.

New Research Documents the Power of Strong Community Networks in Improving Health

A national study published by researchers in the University of Kentucky College of Public Health provides strong evidence that community networks can lead to long-term population health improvements.Since the turn of the century, the American population has declined in health status, longevity and, in some groups, life expectancy. Health policy officials across the country are testing strategies for reversing these trends. The study, conducted by UK College of Public Health researchers and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), indicates that communities can reduce deaths from multiple preventable causes by building multi-organizational networks that support a set of population health improvement activities.

To continue reading the press release, go to: http://systemsforaction.org/news/public-health-study-documents-power-strong-community-networks-improving-health

The article citation is:

Cross-Sector Networks:Preventable Death Rates Fell Where Communities Expanded Population Health Activities Through Multisector Networks

  • Glen P. Mays,
  • Cezar B. Mamaril,
  • and Lava R. Timsina

Health Affairs, November 2016 35: 112005-2013; doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2016.0848


Hub seed grant output: New resource to help school communities and residents improve traffic safety

We are delighted to report the release of a new guide issuing from one of our funded Seed Grant Projects. Here is the press release describing the report:

“The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) is pleased to release the Guide to Safer Streets Near Schools: Understanding Your Policy Options in the City of Toronto, a new resource created to help school communities and residents improve traffic safety in their neighbourhoods.

The guide complements the newly released Road Safety Plan by the City of Toronto, and is designed to further enhance the accessibility of the relevant policies for residents.

“As a parent, I would love to see my kids walk and bike to school, yet the imminent danger of speeding cars and other safety concerns (no bike lanes, lack of signals or crosswalks) makes me hesitate”, explains Nazerah Shaikh, a School Council Chair in North York. “In fact, many parents in our community would like to help make our neighbourhood safer, but it’s not often clear what steps can be taken.”

“The Guide to Safer Streets Near Schools explains the processes for requesting street improvements in the City of Toronto in a simple and easy to understand format. This resource can help empower school communities by providing direction and tools to assist in advocating for neighbourhoods with slower vehicle speeds and safer street crossings, thereby enhancing the communities in which we  live, work, and play,” shares Richard Christie, the Senior Manager of Sustainability at the Toronto District School Board.

The resource is available as a PDF for download fromsaferstreetsnearschools.ca where readers will also find a web version that includes downloadable templates and samples from the accompanying toolkit.

The development of the resource was led by Green Communities Canada in partnership with TCAT, University of Toronto School of the Environment, Toronto Public Health, Toronto District School Board, and CultureLink Settlement & Community Services. It was funded by the Healthier Cities and Communities Hub Seed Grant initiative, a consortium of three funding partners: Toronto Public Health, The Wellesley Institute and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. It was also supported by Mitacs through the Mitacs-Accelerate Program.

Board of Health
A Toronto Public Health report on road safety and children – focused on the guide – will be discussed at the Board of Health meeting on September 30th. The guide will be publicly available on September 23, 2016, along with the Board of Health agenda and report.

About the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT)
TCAT, a project of the registered charity Clean Air Partnership, advances knowledge and evidence to build support for safe and inclusive streets for walking and cycling. We believe that active transportation plays a critical role in creating environmentally and economically sustainable cities. Find out more at www.tcat.ca  “

Food and the City: Looking for the Ecosystem

The next speaker in the City Food Connaught Seminar, hosted by the Culinaria Research Centre, will be Professor Sharon Zukin, Department of Sociology, CUNY, who will present “Food and the City: Looking for the Ecosystem.” Author of the prize-winning books Landscapes of Power and Naked City, Professor Zukin won the Lynd Award for career achievement from the American Sociological Association. The talk will be held in the seminar room of the U of T Department of Sociology, 725 Spadina, Room 240, from 3:00-5:00.

New article in ‘Science’ on smart, sustainable, and healthy cities

An article entitled ‘Meta-principles for developing smart, sustainable, and healthy cities’ (Ramaswami, Russell, Culligan, Sharma, & Kumar, 2016) appeared in the recent ‘Urban Planet’ special issue of Science. Since articles published in Science tend to both reflect and shape influential and cutting-edge trends in science, we thought we’d briefly summarize the article here, and invite comment from you. The article describes ‘five key dimensions of cities’: economic opportunity, urban form, social-infrastructural disparities and human well-being, transboundary infrastructure-environment dynamics, and cross-scale multi-sector governance. Based on these dimensions, the authors present ‘eight principles to focus attention on the systems-level decisions that society faces to transition toward a smart, sustainable, and healthy urban future’:

  1. Focus on providing and innovating basic infrastructure for all.
  2. Pursue dynamic multisector and multiscalar urban health improvements, with attention to inequities.
  3. Focus on urban form and multisector synergies for resource efficiency.
  4. Recognize diverse strategies for resource efficiency in different city types.
  5. Integrate high- and vernacular technologies. Cities should seek local knowledge and systems-level understanding of different solution configurations.
  6. Apply transboundary systems analysis to inform decisions about localized versus larger-scale infrastructure.
  7. Recognize coevolution of infrastructures and institutions. Matching the scale of engineered infrastructures with that of the institutions with which they must operate is key.
  8. Create capacity and transparent infrastructure governance across sectors and scales.

These principles are explained and justified using examples from the United States, China, and India. As usual in Science, the article is both well-written and highly compressed, conveying a lot of information in a short space. We invite you to read the article yourself (reference below; send us an email if you have trouble getting a copy), and share your thoughts. Some questions we thought worth pursuing are as follows:

  • The authors point out that ‘Many smart-city discussions focus on high technology, overlooking more basic, yet innovative, equitable solutions that are emerging, such as fit-for-purpose point-of-use household water treatment in Chinese cities, water “ATMs” in Indian cities, and prioritization to support non-motorized transportation in compact mixed-use urban neighborhoods.’ Do you feel that improving urban health requires ‘innovation’ or high-tech solutions, implementation of basic technologies such as water treatment and sanitation that have been known for decades or centuries, or some combination of innovation and tried-and-true solutions?


  • If existing interventions such as adequate water and sanitation or non-motorized transit are known to be effective, why aren’t they already being implemented everywhere they’re needed? More generally, what interests might prevent some or all of the eight principles from being implemented in different cities? That is, who benefits from the status quo?


  • The authors assert that ‘With the smart-city agenda requiring high-technology expertise, greater involvement of the private sector in infrastructure delivery is inevitable.’ Are public-private partnerships to promote ‘the smart-city agenda’ really inevitable? Are they desirable?


  • The authors emphasize that is important to ‘ask where all the information that enables a smart, sustainable, and healthy city will reside. Transparent and adaptive governance arrangements that are open to public input and scientific study will empower cities, and the world, to learn by doing.’ The question of who ‘owns’ and can be ’empowered’ by data about cities is an important one. Who has historically been able to use data about urban form, urban economies and urban health? What has it been used for? Has anyone been ‘disempowered’ by such data? What will relationships between urban data, power and equity look like in the era of ‘big data’ and collection of data on novel phenomena such as climate change?

Okay, we’re anxious to hear what you think about these questions, or any others the article raises for you!

Reference: Ramaswami, A., Russell, A. G., Culligan, P. J., Sharma, K. R., & Kumar, E. (2016). Meta-principles for developing smart, sustainable, and healthy cities. Science, 352(6288), 940–943. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaf7160

‘Cities and Crisis’: An invitation to a discussion

Cities and Crisis, a new book by former OECD head of urban affairs and regulatory policy Joseph Konvitz, outlines how cities are vulnerable to crises, and what should be done in response. An interview with the author is available on the CITYLAB website:  http://www.citylab.com/politics/2016/05/the-role-of-cities-in-preventing-crisis/483746/

The interview covers a lot of interesting material, and also conveys some strong claims about cities, economics and innovation. According to the interviewer, Konvitz attributes the 2008 global financial crises to factors such as ‘under-investment in infrastructure, low levels of research and innovation, spiky levels of urbanization, uneven development, and a significant increase in income inequality’.  Elsewhere, Konvitz states that ‘Just because urban housing markets in some countries led to the housing crisis in 2007-2008, it would be a gross mistake to generalize that there is something fundamentally wrong about modern urban development.’ Later, he claims that ‘The problems of cities do not start with the growth of manufacturing in China. They start at home.’ This appears to react directly to theories, such as those advanced by geographer David Harvey, that relate urban decay and unemployment to changes in the global economy, and the powerful interests controlling it. 

What do you think? Do the causes of the 2008 financial crisis include a lack of research and innovation? Is there something fundamentally wrong about modern urban development? Do you agree with Konvitz’s assessment of why cities are in crisis? Where can we go to explore these issues in more depth? What does all this have to do with health, and public health practice? We at the Healthier Cities and Communities Hub invite discussion on these points, and our blog format provides a good forum for it to take place. So please, share your knowledge!



New UN initiative and resources on healthy cities

The first ever Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) on Health and Well-being  was coordinated in Malaysia by the United Nations University’s International Institute for Global Health in January of 2016. The UTC is an initiative of UN-Habitat, organized under the aegis of the World Urban Campaign (WUC) in the context of the 3rd United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III ) in 2016. It was a global event to re-imagine sustainable urban development in the interest of human health and environmental well-being, and brought together leading thinkers on urban health. More information about the event is available at http://www.thriveurban.info/. Scroll down to the ‘Documents & News’ section where you’ll find helpful resources such as the Kuching Statement on Healthy, Just and Sustainable Urban Development and a set of  Principles for Healthy and Sustainable Places.