Category Archives: Built Environment

Do people actually use the facilities in their home neighbourhood?

This blog explores a key question in neighbourhood and health research: if there is a facility or amenity close to someone’s home, is it OK to assume they use it? Surprisingly, this assumption is at the heart of a lot of health and environment research.

We often have data which tells us where facilities and amenities are, and we tend to make the assumption that proximity means use. So, for example, if we see that some neighbourhoods have more parks or more leisure facilities, we expect the people who live in that neighbourhood use them more. Understanding local amenity and facility use is important because we want to know whether / how these things affect health.

With technological advances in recent years, studies have started to collect precise data which tell us exactly where people go using global position system (GPS) devices. We no longer have to assume, for example, that if there’s a park close to a child’s home, they will visit it. The GPS tracks we collect will tell us if they did or not. That presents an opportunity to test our assumptions.

Do children use facilities they have access to in their home neighbourhood?

Our team is interested in children’s use of facilities in and around their homes and to test whether we need GPS to research this we conducted an analysis of facility availability and facility use for 30 10-year-old children living in Glasgow. We used data from GPS devices worn by the children for eight days. These children were part of our ‘Studying Physical Activity in Children’s Environments across Scotland’ Study (SPACES).

The diagram below shows what we did. Our key finding was that facility availability in the home neighbourhood is not a good indicator of facility use; the children used facilities from across a much wider area in the city, even if they had a facility close to their home.  For example, 18 of the 30 children (60%) had a leisure centre within their ‘neighbourhood’ (which we defined as 800m around their home). Only 3 of the 18 actually visited that facility (as identified by their GPS tracks). Of those 18 children, 8 actually visited a leisure centre outside of their ‘neighbourhood’. We saw the same kind of pattern when exploring availability and visits to playing fields, public parks and libraries

Blog graphic

Are our results similar to other research?

Yes, other studies that used GPS devices have found that children do spend time outside of their immediate home area for specific purposes. For example, a 2017 study by Chambers and colleagues in Wellington, New Zealand analysed leisure time GPS data (before and after school) in 114 children aged 11 to 13 years from 16 schools, and found that 38% of their leisure time was spent outside of the home neighbourhood (using a 750m buffer around the home). Time outside of the home neighbourhood was mostly spent visiting their school, other residential locations, and fast food outlets.

These results, and those from similar studies, show that it is important not to treat what’s in someone’s immediate home neighbourhood as a good measure of what they do, or in epidemiological language ‘what they are exposed to’. We must challenge the idea that residential neighbourhood is an adequate way to capture the socio-environmental factors which contribute to health. Many people, including children, can and do access environments well beyond their immediate home neighbourhood. We think that a much wider geographic area should be considered when we’re asking questions about how environment affects health and we call this the city-wide landscape.

What does this mean for future research?

It’s clear that the ‘traditional’ approach which uses someone’s neighbourhood (often defined by a distance around their home, or an administrative area in which their home sits) to assess their access to facilities or exposure to environments is seriously flawed.

  • Other methodological approaches are required to measure ‘exposure’ to environment;
  • We must move beyond traditional fixed neighbourhood-health relationships (although we can’t ignore them);
  • We should embrace and integrate innovative technology to explore mobility (e.g. GPS and accelerometer).

Of course, even when we’re able to see exactly where people go and what they do, we still need to understand the decisions people make about whether or not to visit or spend time at different places.

By Jon Olsen, Research Associate with the Neighbourhoods and Communities programme, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow.

Urban health and neighbourhood effects: PhD studentships at Glasgow Uni

CRESH’s Rich Mitchell is part of the GCRF Funded Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC) at the University of Glasgow. The centre is offering 3 new PhD studentships which include a focus on neighbourhood and city effects on health. More details and how to apply can be found below and via the University’s Website: http://bit.ly/SHLCPhD

Closing Date: 17 June 2018

Research Topic

Candidates are required to provide an outline proposal of no more than 1000 words. We are particularly interested in proposals that encompass any of the following topics:

a) The development and operationalisation of indicators/classification/measures of spatial differentiation (including its temporal evolution) of neighbourhoods within SHLC case study cities, and the implications of spatial differentiation for access to public services;

b) The development and operationalisation of indicators/classification/measures for lifelong learning in cities and neighbourhoods in the global south, including links to a range of life wide literacies;

c) Qualitative/ethnographic studies of neighbourhoods in SHLC case study cities paying particular attention to the interaction between urban, health and education challenges

d) Investigations of the impact of informality on social sustainability in neighbourhoods within SHLC case study cities, paying particular attention to the interaction between urban, health and education challenges

e) Understanding the relationships between neighbourhood-level and city-level influences on residents’ health, paying particular attention to variations by health outcome, person and/or SHLC case study city/country.

The award
Both Home/EU and International applicants are eligible to apply. The scholarship is open to +3 (3 years PhD only) commencing in October 2018 and will provide: a stipend at the ESRC rate, 100% tuition fee waiver, and access to the Research Training Support Grant.

How to Apply

All applicants should complete and collate the following documentation then attach to a single email and send to socsci-scholarships@glasgow.ac.uk with the subject line ‘GCRF SHLC Scholarship application‘ by 17 June 2018

  1. Academic Transcript(s) and Degree Certificate(s)

Final or current degree transcripts including grades and degree certificates (and official translations, if needed) – scanned copy in colour of the original documents.

  1. References

2 references on headed paper (academic and/or professional).

At least one reference must be academic, the other can be academic or professional. Your references should be on official headed paper. These should also be signed by the referee.

If your referees would prefer to provide confidential references direct to the University then we can also accept the reference by email, from the referee’s official university or business email account to socsci-scholarships@glasgow.ac.uk clearly labelling the reference e.g. “<applicant name> CoSS Scholarship Reference”

  1. Copy of CV
  2. Research Proposal 

Applicants are required to provide research proposal of not more than 1000 words. It should include:

  • a straightforward, descriptive, and informative title
  • the question that your research will address
  • a justification of why this question is important and worth investigating
  • an assessment of how your own research will engage with recent research on the subject
  • a brief account of the methodology and data sources you will use
  • References to sources cited in the proposal and an indicative wider bibliography (The references and bibliography are in addition to the 1000 words).

For more information please visit the University’s website (http://bit.ly/SHLCPhD) or contact SHLC’s Senior Business Manager Gail Wilson gail.wilson@glasgow.ac.uk

Changing places and mental health: do changes in perceptions of neighbourhood influence anxiety and depression in adults?

Written by Dr Jon Olsen, Research Associate with the Neighbourhoods and Communities programme, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit. This blog is mirrored on the SPHSU website.

Mental health problems are a global issue. In 2013 over 615 million individuals suffered from anxiety and/or depression across the world, a rise of 50% since 1990. How people experience their local environment can impact on mental health. Living in areas that are perceived to have higher levels of neighbourhood problems such as poor housing quality, limited amounts of greenspace, industrial activity, and high traffic volume, has been linked to poorer mental health by some research studies. But, few studies have explored how change in what people think about their neighbourhood is linked to change in their mental health. It would be useful to know this as improving the neighbourhood environment could strengthen mental health.

In our recently published study, we wanted to see how changes in what people thought about their neighbourhood impacted on residents’ mental health over time. We looked at two mental health outcomes: anxiety and depression. Adults who lived in West Central Scotland, an area including Glasgow and eight neighbouring local authorities, were asked to complete the same questionnaire in 1997 and 2010.

Glasgow, United Kingdom – October 20, 2013: People come to walk around and shop at the historic Barras Market Place flea market.

What did we find?

Overall, anxiety and depression in the people we spoke to reduced between 1997 and 2010. However, those who experienced worsening neighbourhood perceptions from 1997 to 2010 also had increased anxiety and depression scores.

Why this matters

Our study showed that worsening neighbourhood perceptions were linked with small increases in anxiety and depression scores. People living in areas where perceptions of the neighbourhood got worse, did not benefit from the general improvements in anxiety and depression scores enjoyed by the population as a whole; this could widen health inequalities.

Wheelie bins (blue for recycling, green for general refuse) lined up for collection in a Glasgow alley.

 

The take home message from this study

There is a clear need for national and local policy to target areas where neighbourhood conditions are substantially deteriorating to ensure people’s mental health does not suffer.

Further information about the study

We used data from the Transport, Housing and Well-being study; a postal survey of adults in eight local authority areas in the west of Scotland in 1997 and 2010. More information and a link to the full questionnaire can be found here: http://thaw.sphsu.mrc.ac.uk/.

Anxiety and depression was measured using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), a common measure of psychological distress that has been in use for over 30 years.

The full paper was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and is freely available here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.

The MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit is funded by the Medical Research Council and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Medical Research Council or the Scottish Government.

Jobs at the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods

Five Research Fellow posts are available at the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC). SHLC is one of the 37 major projects funded for 4 years by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Research Councils UK Collective Fund, which aims to build upon research knowledge in the UK, and strengthen research capacity overseas, to help address challenges in the developing countries.

SHLC will conduct comparative studies of urbanisation and the formation and differentiation of neighbourhoods in cities in order to address the challenges associated with large-scale rural-to-urban migration in Africa and Asia. The Centre, based at Glasgow, has eight international partners in South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, India, Bangladesh, China and the Philippines.

These jobs require expert knowledge in the areas of education, health, or urban studies in relation to developing countries from the perspective of development studies, geography, urban planning, urban studies, migration, public policy or other relevant social science disciplines.

Specifically, we expect each of the five posts to contribute specialist knowledge to the Centre in at least one of the following areas:

  • Cities, urbanisation and urban development in Africa, South Asia and/or East Asia
  • Education policy research and provision in developing countries
  • Health policy research and health facility provision in developing countries
  • Quantitative research and analytical skills including social survey, spatial analysis, GIS, Big Data.
  • Qualitative research and analytical skills and methods

    For further information and applying, please visit the following web site:
    https://www.gla.ac.uk/it/iframe/jobs/

    Search College of Social Sciences (Job Reference Number: 019448) Closing Date: 13th December 2017

Does place matter during recovery from alcohol dependence?

In a new paper, published in Health and Place, Niamh Shortt, Sarah Rhynas and Aisha Holloway ask ‘Can the environment play a role in recovery?’ Here they discuss the findings from the paper.

Place matters for health. We know that features of the natural, built, and social environment can be either health promoting or health damaging.  From previous research we know that the environment is likely to be significant in shaping health-related behaviours, including alcohol consumption (here and here) and smoking patterns (here and here). In a new paper we have explored individuals’ experience and perceptions of the role of place in recovery from alcohol dependence. We wanted to gain a better understanding of the influence of the environment on the everyday experiences of those in recovery.

In order to do this we worked alongside a group of individuals who attend a recovery café in Central Scotland.  We used photovoice, a participatory research method that enabled the participants to capture images of their recovery. Individuals at various stages of recovery, but all at least one year sober, were able to document features of the environment that enable and/or hinder their journey.  Nine participants captured a total of 468 photographs. During focus group discussions participants identified features of the environment that were therapeutic and risky.

Therapeutic environments

Almost all of the participants made references to natural, wide-open spaces, such as hills, the sea, green spaces, in which they found calm and healing.  Participants associated such spaces with escape, meditation, clearing a busy mind, calm and support (Figure 1).

Figure 1: ‘I’ve took a, a picture at the top of the Braids. Eh, one that looks onto Arthur’s seat. Really green Arthur’s seat. And to the right a bit looks as far doon, I think you can see Bass Rock. Eh, and all that beauty and scenery and it’s on our doorstep. And I use it for a bit of my meditation and clearing my mind and that’.

therapeutic

Aside from vast open spaces, participants also found support in more everyday spaces, including the recovery café itself or in their homes. The café provides a space where the participants could see that they are ‘not the only one’, other café users understand their behaviour and the café itself was seen as a place of refuge following difficult moments.

Risky environments

All of the participants highlighted places of risk within their everyday environments, for most the single biggest element of risk was the retail environment, including both the sale and marketing of alcohol. For one participant the constant presence of alcohol was summed up with a photograph of the view from his window that included the local shop (Figure 2).

Figure 2: ‘it’s just there right on my doorstep and the first sign is beers and ciders’.

risky

The same participant noted that, before recovery, he was able to navigate the city to buy alcohol 24 hours a day, the challenge for him now is to try to avoid it in an environment where it is so readily available.  Participants spoke of the difficulty of avoiding such triggers in the everyday.

Further themes discussed in this paper include the transitory nature of place (places moving from supportive to risky and vice versa) and shame and stigma. This paper demonstrates that the journey of recovery from alcohol dependence is embedded in place, with place both supporting and hindering recovery.  The findings confirm that people in recovery experience a particular set of challenges on a day-to-day basis. Of particular note here was the ubiquitous sale of alcohol and presence of alcohol marketing and promotions.  By viewing recovery as a journey we can begin to frame alcohol dependence as a process of change; change in both the individual and in the way in which the individual sees and interacts with the environment. According to Banonis ‘recovering from addiction is a daily choice’ (Banonis 1989, p.37), however such choices are not made in a vacuum. This paper extends previous work by the CRESH team that argues that such health-related choices can be made more or less difficult by the environment in which one lives.

 

To Understand Place, Sometimes You Need to Go Places

By Jon Olsen

I recently spent a week as a visiting postdoctoral researcher at the Built Environment and Health (BEH) research group at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

My visit was funded by the University of Glasgow’s Principal’s Early Career Mobility Scheme, a scheme which aims to give the opportunity for postdoctoral researchers to visit international institutions, providing the time and space to develop high-impact collaboration with staff there.

I organised the visit and developed a proposal on how I would spend my time at Columbia with Kathryn Neckerman, a senior research scientist at the Columbia Population Research Centre and co-director of BEH. Now I am back, it’s time to reflect.

Why is international research collaboration important?

Improving population health and well-being is a focus of Governments and health organisations globally and, while there is continued focus and resource, poor health and inequalities remain. This is partly because improving health and well-being, and reducing inequalities is complex and requires complex solutions. Professor David Hunter in an article in the Journal of Public Health describes improving health and well-being as a ‘wicked problem’. A ‘Wicked’ issue in the sense these problems “defy easy or single bullet solutions” and “have complex causes and require complex solutions”. Collaboration is vital to bring together ideas and resources to tackle complex problems.

An article on international research collaboration in Elsevier connect, following the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit in Melbourne in 2015, stated that “researchers collaborate to share their knowledge and combine the perspectives they have to solve complex problems that are increasingly cross-disciplinary in nature”. It argued that international collaboration provides many benefits, including “enabling researchers in institutions to access resources beyond their own, especially funding, talent and equipment”.

Furthermore, the article suggested that regional universities could collaborate when research is centred on a common regional challenge. However, there are further opportunities for international collaboration and learning, such as where research themes and methodologies are overlapping. All this potential was in mind as I travelled to Columbia University and I was able to explore this through my visit to BEH. For me, the question was how could the similarities that exist in Neighbourhood and Health research themes in Glasgow and in New York benefit research and help further understand complex problems.

Neighbourhood and Health research themes in Glasgow and New York

The BEH research group has an interdisciplinary programme of research which uses spatial data to examine the impact of the built environment (including land use, public transit, and housing) on physical activity, diet, obesity, and other aspects of health. The group’s research themes have many parallels to ours in the Neighbourhoods and Communities Programme at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU), University of Glasgow, and at the Centre for Research on the Environment, Society and Health (CRESH). We all seek to understand how neighbourhood environments impact upon health outcomes and health inequalities.

For example, researchers at SPHSU and CRESH have recently described an association between alcohol and tobacco outlet density across Scotland and area level deprivation such that the poorest neighbourhoods had the highest densities of outlet. However, this is a complex issue as highlighted by a Glasgow based study conducted at SPHSU, ‘The socio-spatial distribution of alcohol outlets in Glasgow city’, which did not find the same association. My colleague Laura Macdonald’s recent paper described that perceptions of being well-placed for amenities and the presence of amenities in the local neighbourhood were not necessarily correlated.

In New York, BEH group have recently developed a tool that allows the automated auditing of neighbourhood environments using Google Street View. This project developed a system called the ‘Computer Assisted Neighborhood Visual Assessment System’ (CANVAS), to conduct Street View based audits of neighbourhoods. The software developed can be used for neighbourhood audits conducted at a desktop computer for a much lower cost than sending out trained auditors to survey the neighbourhood.

CANVAS creates opportunities a richer understanding of neighbourhood environments than using only the geographical location of amenities or outlets. This could include an understanding of visual stimuli in the neighbourhood on individual behavioural choices, such as advertising of health/fast foods, whether amenities and outlets are visible to individuals travelling along streets, and changes in this over time. Approaches like CANVAS could bring advances in our field which often currently assumes that proximity to facilities is the primary mediator in access. As our research has shown, perception and presence of amenities are not necessarily correlated.

Our programme has recently completed data collection for the Studying Physical Activity in Children’s Environments across Scotland (SPACES) study. The SPACES study is the first national representative study in Scotland to collect both Global Positioning System (GPS) and accelerometer (i.e. movement) data of over 800 children, 10-11 years old. Indeed, a study I am currently leading utilises the SPACES dataset to describe children’s patterns of movement within the landscape and how this may be affected by the surrounding neighbourhoods in terms of its makeup, size, shape and proximity to each other. Paul McCrorie and colleagues’ review the use of such devices to explore the physical activity and environment relationship in children and young people highlighted that describing people’s movement in time and space is a field which is advancing rapidly, driven by the advancements in wearable technologies that collect GPS data. But this also means that it’s imperative we understand and develop the methodological options for analysing the gathered data to ensure robust and generalizable conclusions.

The Potential of Collaboration

Spending time with BEH, I could more readily see that the two programmes share a clear focus to establish a grounded and robust methodological framework for describing patterns of movement and environmental exposures in neighbourhoods.

It was this first-hand opportunity to share learning both from the analysis of our studies and our approaches which can, I believe, lead to better collaboration. Modern technology is great for communication, but direct dialogue and the time and space to be with potential colleagues in their environment can perhaps offer richer experience than a scheduled video-conference or a meeting of minds at a conference, (valuable as those are).

For example, last year the BEH group published a study using GPS data to study neighborhood walkability and physical activity’ in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. This measured the size and characteristics of residential neighbourhood areas utilised, and those not utilised, by people in New York City. I was able to discuss this with the lead author, Andrew Rundle, who is also co-director of BEH, during my visit and the strengths and limitations of different geospatial analytical and statistical techniques for neighbourhood GPS studies, which I also picked up with Stephen Mooney while I was there.

I am now continuing to explore ideas around methodological development and carrying on these discussions. International travel schemes are invaluable. It is important to step outside of your own research group to gain a wider academic perspective of world-leading research. Although my visit to BEH was not about collaboraton in the sense of producing a research paper or grant, it allowed us to share practice, knowledge and ideas.

Of course, embracing an international spirit also means following the ‘when in Rome’ philosophy, so before I left, as a keen runner, I also made time to tread some miles amongst the amazing New York scenery. And as a geographer interested in spatial epidemiology, and like other geographers, I track all my runs using GPS! I have included the routes for those who might want to check them out: Two Bridges, Lower Manhattan to Battery Park, and a foggy 5k across the Manhattan Bridge.

 

 

The impact of a motorway extension in Glasgow on road traffic accidents

Funded by the NIHR PHR Programme

A new study published by Dr Jon Olsen at CRESH and colleagues at CEDAR in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health evaluated the impact of the 5-mile M74 motorway extension on road accidents that resulted in a casualty. The study found that it had no impact on the already decreasing trend of road accidents in the area. Continue reading The impact of a motorway extension in Glasgow on road traffic accidents