Session 20: Urban health and Global Environmental Change: Interdisciplinary perspectives


Session Abstract

The growth of cities needs to be carefully managed if urbanization is to enhance, not threaten, human health and well-being. The increasing complexity of urban systems had led to the need for practical systems approaches. Such approaches range from simple ‘systems-thinking' methods, through conceptual models, to quantitative dynamic analyses. In practice, all these approaches are useful. A systems-thinking approach is recommended as the first step in implementing the systems analysis proposed in the Urban Health programme. Such an approach can identify cross-sector links (in government, professional disciplines, and geographic locations) and reveal the feedback interactions between sectors and disciplines. It can also contribute to an understanding of how feedback influences policy outcomes. A systems approach stresses the need to study cross-sector feedback interactions. This is essential to avoid common system effects such as ‘policy resistance', and other unwanted and unexpected outcomes of management actions.

Human health is identified by the International Council for Science (ICSU) as a new research priority. ICSU's 'Health and Well-Being in the Changing Urban Environment: A Systems Analysis Approach (hereinafter Urban Health) programme is a 10-year interdisciplinary research effort with the aim to generate policy-relevant knowledge that will improve health status, reduce health inequalities and enhance the well-being of urban dwellers. It will focus on the integration of natural, social, medical and engineering sciences using systems approaches to ad-dress the complexity of urban issues and their influence on health. Urban health is a particular concern in the developing world, where urbanization is rapid. 

The session introduced a systems approach suitable for studying urban health issues called Collaborative Conceptual Modelling (CCM) and included concise presentations of urban health issues related to global environmental changes from interdisciplinary approaches. 

Keywords: urban health, climate change, heat, epidemiology, healthy cities, systems approach, environmental change and health, urban planning and health


Key Discussion Points 

  • Urban planners and decision-makers need to play a stronger role in improving human health in cities.
  • Knowledge of how to strengthen this role requires co-production, which, in turn, requires cross-sector collaboration.
  • Co-production and co-design of knowledge require trust between all parties, and attention to the challenge of developing shared understanding. This calls for vigilance in detecting opportunities to improve cross-sectoral communication.
  • Robust policies require a feedback-systems approach. System dynamics modelling can help collaborative groups improve their understanding of possible policy impacts. It is important, however, to keep the models as simple as possible, if they are to influence the thinking of urban planners and decision-makers.
  • System archetypes are examples of simple models that can improve systems thinking. They are feedback structures that occur in many contexts and have characteristic behaviors.  They can help a collaborative group identify leverage points for effective change.



Shih-Chun Candice Lung, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan



Nordin Hasan, ICSU Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Presentation Title: Developing an urban health research programme using the systems approach

Shih-Chun Candice Lung, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan

Presentation Title: Using a systems approach to design a green transportation system for better urban health under climate change

Katrina Proust, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Presentation Title: History and the feedback dynamics of technology choice


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