(This project was modified in May 2020 to reflect the impact of COVID-19 on the community in Itagüí, the focus of the research)
Adequate access to health and well-being will be key in creating sustainable cities in the near future. As countries’ incomes and urban populations grow, non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes - all already in the top 10 global causes of deaths - will continue to rise. Current social distancing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting this access in ways we don’t fully understand and affect some populations more than others. New tools to document and close these inequity gaps will be crucial to inform policy on how to build healthier cities.
Low-income women in Latin America are part of these struggling groups, due to already established social inequities. Some of these women’s working conditions are inflexible, evening -time mobilities are restricted due to personal safety concerns and taking public transport often involves experiencing of sexual harassment. Access to healthy and affordable diet, places to exercise, and health centres is therefore limited. Social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have been taken to reduce contagion, but little care has been taken to prevent these from exacerbating existing inequities.
This research project studies accessibility to healthy living among low-income women in Itagüí (Colombia) under a strongly collaborative framework that incorporates environmental variables in novel ways. We are developing an accessibility model with inputs and collaboration from a group of 40 local women, people working in three levels of government (local, metropolitan and national), and Colombian academics in order to understand the role existing transport options play in how these communities access healthy living and how social distancing measures affect this access.
The project asks three overarching questions:
- How can co-production be used to create a model of accessibility to healthy living that is sensitive to the local urban context and can also be applied elsewhere?
- How do social distancing measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic affect low-income women’s access to healthy living?
- What role can low-cost personal air pollution monitors play in informing policy, modelling accessibility, and empowering citizens to reduce pollution exposure?
As part of our project we are working with local communities to define the main issues around accessing a healthy living during and after social distancing policies, and will co-create spaces for dialogue, capacity training, and knowledge exchange. Our project will communicate our findings with different audiences through art exhibitions, online technical tools, academic papers, and briefs.
As part of our efforts to create an identity and sense of belonging with the local women and co-researchers in the project, we have co-created a name and image for our team - Dimú – dialogue with entrepreneurial women. The name highlights the way in which we conduct our research, the conversational nature of our research, and their self-identification as “entrepreneurs”, which they define as someone who looks for creative ways to find the means to sustain themselves and their families, regardless of having a formal business venture or not.
Our close work with the Mayor’s office of Itagüí has allowed Dimú to influence policy. Every four years a new Development Plan is discussed and agreed between a new administration and the city council. During this year’s discussion face, just as Colombia began a national lockdown due to COVID-19, we created three YouTube videos to explain key parts of the plan. These videos are available here (videos in Spanish): Mobility, Health, and Environment.
The feedback from co-researchers were fed into a policy brief that was sent to the Mayor’s top advisor. As a result, five articles in the Development Plan were modified to include: a pledge to invest in pedestrian infrastructure in their neighbourhood, a plan to recover the local environmental leaders programme, an explicit recognition that participatory processes should aim to empower and listen instead of just “educate” citizens, and a new programme to support farmers markets in the area.
Our quantitative data collection process is also moving along. We are currently monitoring exposure to air pollutants with interesting preliminary results that highlight the importance of low-cost personal monitors to better understand some of their environmental threats (a presentation in Spanish of these preliminary results can be found here).