Neighbourhoods and Communities

Rooftop view of old houses in London with grey sky and clouds. 1400 pixels

Our Neighbourhoods and Communities programme studies the ways in which people and places interact to affect health. There is a long history of research which shows that while 'who you are' is really important for determining your chances of good health, 'where you are' also matters. A lot of research has shown that characteristics of the 'neighbourhood' seem to affect health and health inequalities.

In theory, we could use the neighbourhood environment as a lever to protect health and reduce inequality - if we create the right kind of neighbourhood, we might reap public health benefits. However, in reality we have little robust evidence about what the best intervention or investment in neighbourhoods would be. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Existing research has focused on 'neighbourhood' as a fixed unit - it has assumed that a geographical area around the home is the key environment of influence. In reality, many people move around their towns and cities; they work, they go to school, they visit different places to do different things.
  • To find out whether changes in urban environment can lead to improvements in health and reductions in inequalities, we need to track change in environment over time. That may not be too complex in one or two locations, but it is a lot more difficult to examine impact in lots of places at once.
  • A lot of empirical research has sought to separate the influences on health which are about 'who you are' as an individual, and those which are about 'where you live'. This leads to the mistaken idea that simply changing something about a neighbourhood environment will affect everyone there.
  • In an ideal world, researchers would be able to freely make changes to urban environments, like in a drug trial. In reality, some urban environments change very little over long periods of time, and others experience multiple changes very rapidly. This makes it hard to get evidence about the consequences of urban change.

Our overarching aim is to solve these problems and to understand how urban environments are, or can be modified to be, both salutogenic (i.e. helping to create and maintain good health) and equigenic (i.e. helping to reduce and prevent health inequalities).

Our programme has three workstreams: Movement and Physical Activity Within Urban Landscapes, Detecting and Evaluating Change in the Built Environment and Seeking salutogenic and equigenic urban environments.