In early 2021 our Board Member and Lead researcher Dr Diana Benjumea was selected to join a prestigious Health Leaders Network initiated by the Urban Land Institute (ULI). Health Leaders Network is a platform aimed at sharing knowledge and ideas with health leaders across continents. It gathers professionals across the globe with the skills and knowledge to generate impact and help improve health outcomes in their professional practice with the communities.
Among multiple activities on the 09th of June 2021, the group presentation session features Dr Diana's presentation titled Networks of Nature: Designing for harmonious interactions in tangible and intangible ‘spaces’. In it, she introduces NeuroLandscape and some of the work and research projects she has conducted in different countries aimed at investigating the confounding variables that affect the eudemonic health and well-being of urban residents.
Additionally, she explored how the solutions taken in urban spaces in Singapore to promote health (e.g., green infrastructure) can also introduce negative responses from urban residents that are not adapted to coexist with a more biodiverse urban space.
A conceptual model (Nature place-making) abstracted from our scientific explorations unveils the main underlying social/design components needed to promote harmonious coexistence with nature in heavily urbanised cities.
Our programme Planting Seeds of Empowerment Mental Health and Well-being of the Communities starts this year with a new project created in collaboration with international organisations to emphasise the importance of nature in the mental health and well-being of people residing in heavily urbanised cities.
The project entitled: Networks of Nature Integrating Urban Farming in the city Fabric will introduce and educative platform that will provide knowledge about the importance of individual and community actions in urban farming activities as accelerators for positive environmental change in Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore.
Joining efforts with two partnering organisations Binatani Sejahtera Foundation (Indonesia) and Technical Assistance Movement for People and Environment Inc (TAMPEI Philippines), Networks of Nature will provide a platform for empowerment towards nature actions to enable a shared sense of community and support. Three main educational modules will be developed focusing on: Urban farming, improving mental health through urban farming, and adaptable architecture infrastructures for urban farming. Our combined efforts from Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore will bring different sets of skills and expertise that will also help those engaged in the Networks of Nature to feel supported and connected to a global community.
Networks of Nature Integrating Urban Farming in the city Fabric was selected among the best five projects during the Gobeshona Global Conference in January this year. We will be running this project with the financial support of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCD), Climate Justice Resilience Funds, and Gobeshona Global conference.
The book is intended for citizens and political decision-makers interested in systems perspectives of urban health and well-being seeking for inspiration to find solutions for the increasing complexity of cities and the environmental, social, and health impacts of urbanization.
In our paper entitled: Coping with Extreme Circumstances Through Community-Led Local Nature Interventions: A Science-based Policy Analysis, we discuss
the importance of the Local Nature Interventions Projects (LNIP) that are created by low-income communities as coping strategies to extreme events to help them sustain
health and well-being.
We present examples of the LNIP taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic and we argue that the LNIP are part of a secondary green network that could be acknowledged as part of the main city’s urban green infrastructure. Therefore, the internal capacities of the communities to create sustainable projects in the natural and built environment across time should be acknowledged and supported in future urban green projects. With these preliminary findings, we seek to draw attention towards LNIP initiatives as they could become alternatives to sustain community empowerment, environmental awareness, and health and well-being across settlements located in extreme urban environments.
COVID-19, Cities and Health: A View from New York (Jo Ivey Boufford and Anthony Shih)
Current and Future Human Exposure to High Atmospheric Temperatures in the Algarve, Portugal: Impacts and Policy Recommendations(André Oliveira, Filipe Duarte Santos, and Luís Dias)
Neuroscience-Based Urban Design for Mentally Healthy Cities(Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo)
The Role of Money for a Healthy Economy(Felix Fuders)
Developing Health-Promoting Schools: An Initiative in Government Schools of Indore City, India(Alsa Bakhtawar)
Mobility and COVID-19: Time for a Mobility Paradigm Shift (Carolyn Daher, Sarah Koch, Manel Ferri, Guillem Vich, Maria Foraster, Glòria Carrasco, Sasha Khomenko, Sergio Baraibar, Laura Hidalgo, and Mark Nieuwenhuijsen)
COVID-19 Shows Us the Need to Plan Urban Green Spaces More Systemically for Urban Health and Wellbeing(Jieling Liu)
How Lack or Insufficient Provision of Water and Sanitation Impacts Women’s Health Working in the Informal Sector: Experiences from West and Central Africa(H. Blaise Nguendo Yongsi)
Planning Models for Small Towns in Tanzania(Dawah Lulu Magembe-Mushi and Ally Namangaya)
Coping with Extreme Circumstances Through Community-Led Local Nature Interventions: A Science-Based Policy Analysis(Diana Benjumea and Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo)
Dr Diana Benjumea gave a speech regarding architecture and urban planning, where she sets a new paradigm of bottom-up, evidence-based urban design. Moreover, she introduces NeuroLandscape projects and explains the global implications of the emerging shift in thinking and approaching urban space.
The entire speech and Q&A session are available on youtube! English subtitles coming soon!
It is well known to the environmentalists that Bangladesh is currently considered the 7th most vulnerable country to the adverse effects of ongoing climate change. What we do not know, however, is the adverse effects that are already in place and how much it is tangled with rural-urban migration, rehabilitation, gender, human rights, and health issues with a large share of mental health problems, seldom studied and looked into.
To investigate what is the aftermath of women coming into Dhaka and settling inside the slums after facing the atrocities of natural hazards linked with climate change- I, along with my teammate Rupita, Ananya, Mimi, Jahin went through thorough interviews and focus group discussions with the displaced ladies. We focused on women who came to Dhaka in 10-15 years from the present time, as various studies suggest that more than 80% of displaced people from the time after 2010 would be climate migrants.
What we found out so far was more astounding than expected. Women, unlike men, came to Dhaka only when their families had reached the bottom level of poverty- when they had lost everything to the disasters. There were attempts to be settled near their origins by many of them, but futile. Dhaka city, to them, was not an option, rather the only hope of survival. None of the interviewees claimed they wish to live in Dhaka– many of them have adopted a tedious life on bare minimums to save money- so that perhaps one day they can go back to their origins and settle. But in reality, this is a dream achievable by only a few. With their average household income of 5 to 10 dollar a day, in the 72nd most expensive city to live in, saving money is nearly impossible.
All of our respondents claimed being stricken with ‘poverty’ after surviving climatic hazards. Neither authorities of their origin nor in Dhaka were prepared to rehabilitate them. The result- migration into shabby slums in Dhaka as these were the only places accessible and ‘relatively’ affordable to them, and the city had better employment opportunities for such ‘ill-fated’ women.
Misery, however, never left the ladies.
According to the women, they feel despair from the cutoff of rural lifestyle. The environment and culture is very different from what they are used to live in. They feel out pf space. Poverty in the slums is worse than imagination. Not only the people, especially women, earn less, but the cost of basic facilities are much higher, yet inadequate. Moreover, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) like catcalling and sexual abuse is very common for the women in slums. The structures and design of slums only make things worse for them. The houses in the slum are very small, roughly 100 sq ft. Each family reside within one of such houses, with only one room in it. The houses have no space in between them, and the paths connecting the slums can be as narrow as 3 ft. This makes the residence in the houses and even walking in the paths uncomfortable. They feel a lack of privacy in their new life. Fire hazards are frequent, and fear of eviction is a constant threat in their lives. Lack of water supply points and toilets leave them prone to health hazards and security threats alike. On one hand, lack of toilets puts women in a vulnerable position to GBV when using the toilet or collecting water, especially during night time. On the other hand, it forces them to reduce drinking water, hold onto urine and follow unsanitary practices during menstruation- causing dehydration, urinary infection, constipation, uterine prolapse, and reproductive problems. Rising temperature increases the demand for drinking water. With groundwater depletion, the supply of water becomes scarce and women are the worst sufferers of the condition. They are the ones expected to reduce consumption first. Also, erratic rainfall causes flooding in the slums, that impede them from collecting water or going to toilets.
Even though our interviews didn’t focus on the mental health of the woman, prevailing notion of chronic stress and fear they deal with every day was evident within the fear of violence, eviction and lack of belonging and identity. In all of our interviews, participants expressed their frustrations, insecurities and struggles of everyday life.
In short, the cost of survival is beyond our imagination. Further investigation can help us understand their extent of adaptation within urban spaces, especially in slums. Mental health associated with coping with a new urban environment losing their home, security threats, condition of facilities and changed identity and their needs for rehabilitation needs to be thoroughly understood to ensure a better life for them.
Bangladesh has made remarkable improvements in tackling natural hazards by reducing casualties and economic loss. But to be truly a resilient nation, we have to prepare ourselves to restore the lives of climate survivors, not forgetting the ladies.
The talk aimed to share the multidisciplinary work that is conducted in NeuroLandscape with special attention to the new program Nature Connection and Mental Health of the Communities launched last year.
The information included some of the preliminary study results obtained from the two main international research clusters in Medellin (Colombia) and Dhaka (Bangladesh). The presentation discussed the social and scientific research approaches that NeuroLandscape is leading in order to understand the contribution of nature in the mental health of low-income communities with the aim of informing new urban design models.
Staff from the Universidad de Caldas Manizales and the National Training Service (SENA) joined in the discussion of creating possible cooperation between institutions and NeuroLanscape in order to consolidate future social and scientific projects in the city of Manizales that could contribute to the health and well-being of the communities in this city.
With combined efforts from the educational institutions and the scientific background of Neurolandscape, future projects are envisioned, in which a greater network of opportunities that include new research projects and transfer skills education programs could be established with the aim of benefiting low-income community residents.