Author: Ilinca-Gabriela Radu (MSc Global Health, KU)
Shaun Palmer (MSc Global Health, Vrije Univeriteit)
Emma Douma (MSc Global Health, Vrije Universiteit)
Anne Kirstine Haugaard Jensen (Bachelor of Landscape Architecture, KU)
On November 23rd and 24th 2018 the annual Global Health Case Challenge took place at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences of the University of Copenhagen. This year’s theme was centered on synergies in urban development. The case was provided by Gehl Architects – Making Cities for People, an urban research and design consulting firm based in Copenhagen, and the question was: ‘How can planning of urban public space contribute to climate change mitigation goals and benefit mental wellbeing among vulnerable populations?’
Early Friday morning, after anxiously opening the sealed envelopes containing the case question, all fifteen teams settled into the SUND Hub and dispersed into their allocated rooms, which would serve as our burrows and think tanks for the next 24 hours. At that point, I had only known my teammates for less than a day, meeting them for the first time the evening before. Shaun and Emma both travelled all the way from Amsterdam where they study at Vrije Universiteit, while Anne and I study at the University of Copenhagen. Respectively hailing from the UK, the Netherlands, Romania and Denmark, we had a range of backgrounds and perspectives that complemented one another. Hence, we quickly found our niche and were able to efficiently distribute tasks.
The brainstorming process proved itself arduous in the first half of the day. Choosing a focus and a geographical location proved to be difficult. We toggled back and forth between possible focus areas and cities for our project. We realized that attempting to forcibly include all key terms and challenges related to urban spaces (transport, employment, population growth, governance and finance) that we had briskly scribbled on the whiteboard was not the right approach. So we decided to tackle the problem pragmatically, by considering our experiences of living in big cities and identifying climate change and mental health challenges from these. As we were all very familiar with Paris, we realized this metropolis epitomized many relevant issues. With problematic air pollution levels, daily traffic congestion and the third least green European capital city, as evidenced by its low Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), Paris emerged as the perfect location for our project. We identified our target population in northern Paris, in the 17th and 18th arrondissements, where many marginalized and socioeconomically challenged communities live in small, cramped apartments and where there is a severe lack of outdoor green urban spaces. We developed a four-phase project to create urban street parks in the heart of the city and bring green spaces to the residents’ doorsteps.
Our proposed solution, DIVERSITREE 2023, not only mitigates the effects of climate change in line with the COP21 Paris Agreement, it also improves the mental wellbeing of community residents. We scouted streets with low traffic flows to ease traffic diversion and transform them into dynamic, multi-functional green spaces. We aim to introduce vertical green belts and roof gardens, underground elevator car parks, rainwater collection and storage systems, light-emitting diodes, an urban forestry and dynamic community performance and activity spaces. Planting green areas helps to sequester carbon dioxide emissions, cool ambient air temperature and help to evaporate water. Our solution stimulates ownership and responsibility and fosters socialization and collaboration among the residents; through initiatives such as intergenerational activities among schoolchildren and the elderly, and an urban forestry strategy incentivizing residents to adopt trees, track their growth and carbon offset and share this data through social media networks. Further, we will involve residents, key stakeholders and innovators in the scoping, planning and building of the project to ensure that they truly leave their mark on the street park. By bringing green recreational spaces to people’s doorstep, we encourage them to spend more time outdoors with each other, thus promoting mental wellbeing. With this comprehensive plan we strive to plant the seeds of urban health by 2023.
After 24 hours of intense and uninterrupted toil and labor (and barely 4 hours of sleep), Shaun, Emma, Anne and myself emerged as the winning team of the Global Health Case Challenge 2018 – Synergies in Urban Development. With pounding hearts and tremulous hands, we rose from our seats and made our way to the podium to accept our prize. Ultimately, the jury appreciated that our team identified and addressed a long-existing problem in a Western developed metropolis that had been neglected and overlooked by the municipality. The jury acknowledged that our solution was feasible and scalable in such a way that it had high reproducibility and repeatability, and made the city of Paris more livable while targeting key vulnerable populations suffering from isolation and loneliness. In particular, our solution targeted the mental wellbeing of vulnerable groups rather than mental ill health. Our solution successfully embedded and incorporated the environmental factor, particularly the problem of air pollution, while simultaneously promoting mental wellbeing.
The case challenge was one of my most enriching and rewarding experiences; I could not recommend it enough. It really was a challenge, both physically and mentally! Creativity, teamwork, and time management were put to the ultimate test. As the winning team, we were invited to present our solution to Gehl Architects’ office in Copenhagen and receive feedback from the urban planners. We will also be travelling to London for the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Health’s i-Day winners’ event, where we will meet other winning teams from Case Challenges held in Europe, and work on a new case while improving our knowledge and practice of design thinking. Upon our return we hope to bring forth our solution to UCPH Innovation Hubs and explore opportunities for implementation.