May 13 | 2019

Liveable for whom? Prospects of urban liveability to address health inequities.

Badland H, Pearce J.

Soc Sci Med. 2019 May 2;232:94-105. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.05.001


The aspiration of liveable cities, underpinned by the New Urban Agenda, is gaining popularity as a mechanism to enhance population health and wellbeing. However, less attention has been given to understanding how urban liveability may provide an opportunity to redress health inequities. Using an environmental justice lens, this paper investigates whether urban liveability poses an opportunity or threat to reducing health inequities and outlines a future research agenda. Selected urban liveability attributes, being: education; employment; food, alcohol, and tobacco; green space; housing; transport; and walkability, were investigated to understand how they can serve to widen or narrow inequities. Some domains showed consistent evidence, others suggested context-specific associations that made it difficult to draw general conclusions, and some showed a reverse patterning with the social gradient, but with poorer outcomes. This suggests urban liveability attributes have equigenic potential, but operate within a complex system. We conclude more disadvantaged neighbourhoods and their residents likely have additional policy and design considerations for optimising outcomes, especially as changes to the contextual environment may impact neighbourhood composition through displacement and/or pulling up effects. Future research needs to continue to explore downstream associations using longitudinal and natural experiments, and also seek to gain a deeper understanding of the urban liveability system, including interactions, feedback loops, and non-linear and linear responses. There is a need to monitor neighbourhood population changes over time to understand how liveability impacts the most vulnerable. Other areas worthy of further investigation include applying a life course approach and understanding liveability within the context of other adversities and contextual settings.