Erica Levine, Associate Director, Chronic Disease Action Center at the Arnhold Institute for Global Health
Aug 06, 2019
We have started a learning partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. It’s an exciting approach, new to both organisations, and is helping us compare efforts in improving health in two urban settings – East Harlem in New York, and Lambeth and Southwark in London.
We want to study the similarities and differences between our two cities, and generate new ideas to better serve our populations. Our ultimate goal is to better understand how living in cities affects people’s health.
Whilst in London, we met folks working on a wide range of projects. Of all the places we visited, the one that stood out most to me was the Oasis Farm. A five-minute walk from the famous Big Ben, the site sits on a half of an acre and is home to planter beds, chickens, pigs and lambs. The people who run it work with at-risk youth and invite children to help with planting and taking care of the animals. It’s aptly named; truly an oasis in the heart of the city.
It stood out to me because it reminded me of an ambitious compost project in New York, with demonstration sites all over the city. One such area is a compost processing site in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn. It is run entirely on renewable resources, has a farm on-site and is almost entirely supported by volunteers.
Both projects demonstrate that seemingly simple ideas can have a big impact on people’s health and wellbeing – from providing opportunities for social interaction and contact with nature, to improving their environments.
These sites also remind us of how much our environment dictates our behaviour. If we all had access to farms and compost processing sites, would we eat and shop differently? Seeing (and smelling!) a farm in the heart of the city, it struck me how far we are, not even in distance, but in mindset, from the source of our food. Being able to close that gap, even just a little bit, can hopefully improve individual and community health.
How? Well, we know that eating a diet of mostly processed food contributes to chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. The rising number of people developing several long-term health conditions is an area of focus for both the Charity and us at the Institute.
By eating more locally-grown plants and working with others to grow and process these foods, we can change the quality of our diets and become more connected to our communities. Two birds; one stone (well, two if you count the farm and the compost site, but you get the idea).
My visit to London impressed upon me the importance of creating places to grow, educate, and build community. Even if those places were in the middle of train stations, or under bridges, or between concrete buildings.
As part of our partnership, we are working with the Charity to scope projects that help us explore common areas of interest. This includes how to support people with multiple long-term conditions living in cities to manage their health and wellbeing better. I’m hopeful that this will lead us to create even more places that drive better health for our communities.
23 April, 2020
As a funder, our priority is to support our partners and the communities most affected by COVID-19. Our Portfolio Director, Louise Mousseau, sets out the actions we've taken to date and how we're adapting our work in response to a changing environment.