On Monday 13th September at 11:00 CEST Dr Diana Benjumea Meija presented her research on "The Spatial and Social Components of Community-led Green Spaces and its Contribution to the Health and Wellbeing of Low-income Communities" at the 9th World Sustainability Forum
In the last decade, there has been a surge in projects initiated by urban low-income residents in Medellin to revitalise urban green spaces through pro-environmental initiatives. Urban green spaces in these neighbourhoods are believed to be the repositories of diverse socially constructed and perceived meanings defined by the prosocial and self-reflective approaches of the communities to achieve alternative methods of governance over the territory.
This study was designed to investigate the underlying spatial and social components that emerge after the community-led green spaces are built. Two neighbourhoods in Medellin were investigated: Villatina (commune 8) and Eduardo Santos (commune 13). A quasi-longitudinal mix-methods study was conducted from 2016 until June 2021.
Ethnographic field work, interviews, focus groups and surveys were collected with residents of the two neighbourhoods. The results of this study suggest that there are underlying social and spatial components that emerge after the community-led green spaces are built and these are crucial to forge prosocial behaviours, activism, stewardship, and protection from crime.
Additionally, the active engagement of the communities in self-governed placemaking process creates an immediate sense of place defined by social factors such as ownership, learning, community coexistence, cooperation, sustainability, and ecology. These components contribute to the mental and physical health and wellbeing of low-income residents and creates unique social and environmental values.
The share of the world’s population living in urban areas has been predicted to increase from 55% in 2018 to 60% in 2030 (UN, 2018). Every year people move to the urban areas from villages for various reasons. If we try to see this urban-rural migration under the push-pull model, push factors from rural end such as landlessness and poverty, frequent natural calamities (particularly riverbank erosion, tidal surge), lack of social and cultural opportunities for rural rich and The pull factors from the urban end like job opportunities, higher wages, better civic services encourage these migrants. Most of them are low or lower-middle-income people.
Due to high land prices and construction costs, these people cannot afford suitable housing. In rural areas, they may have a house with a courtyard, pond with lots of greenery. It is very hard to get just a shelter under the roof which is far away from the house they used to live in. A lot of slums and unplanned low-income residential areas with poor greeneries, ventilation boom up. People have little scope to take care of their mental health in such settlements. Most of them face severe mental illness due to some social and physical variables including low socioeconomic status, unemployment, impoverished social networks, quality of life, bad living condition, overcrowding, pollution, and limited social supports overall the environment around these people. These variables of the social and physical environment have different types of effects on different age groups, it also varies from gender to gender.
Different geographical contexts – same issues
In a study in India, it has been explored with ethnographic methods that afflictions of the city affecting the emotional well-being and mental health of women and men with respect to gender in the Malvani slum, Mumbai. Mental health issues such as emotional distress, hopelessness, disappointment, demoralization, addictions, instability, hostility, violence, criminality, worthlessness, fatigue and weakness, depression. Poor hygiene and sanitation, subjective quality of life of poor people living in deprived conditions population density, hutment demolition, homelessness, violence, and crime play a vital role in this degrading mental health in slums of Mumbai.
Women face more problems along with the previously mentioned ones such as dual responsibilities of home and work, substandard jobs and pay, sexual exploitation, marital disharmony, abandonment, exploitation of women, domestic violence, the humiliation of women
which creates a great negative impact like depression, fatigue , worthlessness, stress, low self- esteem from menial position etc.
If we look at South Africa, 72% of women in informal settlements have been reported moderate to high levels of depressive symptomology and 57.9% reported very high levels, compared to only 26.4% of women in a nationally representative sample. A lack of access to water, sewage, garbage collection, health care, and other basic services as factors associated with poor mental and physical health in these settlements. The prevalence of IPV in these communities (66.2%) is higher than in the general population (39%). Even in the slum of Bangladesh, 46% of women in the sample tested positive for a UTI (urinary tract infections) which have not only a physical health problem but also severe mental issues.
Adolescents in the urban slums of Bangladesh face more mental problems than other well-off areas. They may have limited chances to learn skills to shape their minds. Thus, non-slum adolescents may be able to feel anxiety when they face stress, whereas slum adolescents may not be able to learn or practice this
highly cognitive procedure but rather vent their frustrations by acting out as they get older. Here also, quality of life plays a role.
Healthy housing – a human right
Most studies are consistent about that housing condition plays a major role in mental health issues. Lack of adequate space, utility facilities, open space, the hygienic living environment creates a great negative impact on the people living in the slum. Though the constitution of Bangladesh declared housing is a basic right. But proving proper healthy housing to people is a huge challenge for Bangladesh. 80% of poor HHs in Dhaka live in one-roomed homes of the latter types (1.2 m2 floor area per person). From the National Housing Policy of Bangladesh 1993, we come to know that housing is one of the three basic primary needs of human-like food and clothing. It is considered that housing creates a sense of belonging and safety for the owner. Even the major objective of the Housing Policy 1999 was to ensure housing for all. It has put emphasis on the disadvantaged low and middle-income groups of people. Then again the goal of the Housing Policy 2008 was to provide proper housing available to all citizens and to develop houses, settlements, and workplaces on a sustainable and equal basis. The National Housing Authority undertook a project to provide 5,472 flats in Bhashantek. But govt is failing to provide housing to this increasing number of migrants.
RAJUK has reserved only 1.2%, 4.3%, and 7.5% of land for low-income groups in the Purbachal, Uttara (3rd Phase), and Jhilmeel projects respectively. Different NGOs are working to provide housing to this low-income community living in an informal settlement. ARBAN, one of the first NGOs piloted a low-income, urban housing project in Bangladesh. By tapping into micro-credit savings deposits and loan assistance, ARBAN built an apartment complex for 42-member households in Mirpur, Dhaka. The apartments were handed over in 2012. Building on success, ARBAN is taking on another housing project to construct apartments for 85 households on a 1 Bigha plot at the city’s Rampura-Banasree area. “Ghore Fera” or similar kind of rehabilitation opportunities have to be created.
People in our slums are still struggling for a better life…
As we can see there are so many policies but not much really changes for people in slums. They deserve proper housing, a basic healthy life with effective interventions for mental health. Community mental health services should be introduced in these informal settlements. Approaches to mental health policy and planning for community mental health benefit to priorities can be defined with local socio-cultural contexts. So improving and monitoring should also be a concern to the providers to slums. Complimentary approaches to mental health research can also be helpful to address interdisciplinary academic interests and practical needs for mental health planning. Psychiatric epidemiology is required to identify the burden of mental disorders. Quality living may improve their mental health. A housing with better basic facilities such as water sanitation, electricity, open space, basic medical treatment, scopes to talk and getting help about mental health is their right to survive in a good way on this Earth.
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.
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!
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.