The CUNY Urban Health Collaborative (UHC) was created in Spring 2000 in order to strengthen teaching, research and practice in urban health within the City University of New York. The growing urbanization of the world’s population, the powerful impact of city living on health, and the CUNY mission of serving New York combined to make urban health a natural focus for our institution. With more than 200,000 students who reflect the diversity of the city and more than 100 health-related academic programs, CUNY brings a wealth of resources to the study of urban health.
In the last 5 years, nearly 400 CUNY faculty, research staff, administrators, and students have joined to attend the UHC’s academic forums, to find colleagues with common interests, and to develop new activities related to teaching, research and practice in urban health.
Our accomplishments over the past 5 years include:
- National recognition in the award of a 5-year NIH Roadmap Curriculum Development Award to UHC faculty (2004-2009) for the preparation of an interdisciplinary curriculum in urban health
- The development of new pathways for students interested in urban health, including an MPH-PhD program, new doctoral level courses in urban health, and other academic options for advanced study in urban health
- Interdisciplinary and cross-campus workgroups centered around specific interest areas in urban health, including HIV/AIDS, obesity/nutrition/activity, immigration, healthy urban aging, correctional health, urban planning, and occupational and environmental health
- Ongoing collaboration between the UHC and several CUNY research centers with an interest in urban health, including the Center for Human Environments at the Graduate Center, the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Queens College, and the Brookdale Center on Aging, the Center on Urban and Community Health, and the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at Hunter College
- An ongoing series of more than 20 faculty development seminars on topics in urban health, with invited speakers from across the country
- Annual forums for both graduate students and new CUNY faculty with interests in urban health
- The allocation of several cluster hire lines at CUNY to the areas of urban and environmental health, including the first ever interdisciplinary position in Urban Health at the CUNY Graduate Center.
- Several publications on urban health by UHC members.
Why a focus on urban health?
Today, city life is the norm for an ever-growing proportion of the world’s population. Recent projections suggest that half of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2007 and three-quarters by 2030 (United Nations Population Division, 2000; Gelbard et al., 1999). The urban environment influences every aspect of health and well-being: what people eat, the air they breathe and the water they drink, where (or if) they work, the housing that shelters them, their sex partners and family arrangements, where they go for health care, the danger they encounter on the street, and who is available for emotional and financial support. In the modern era, cities have been both the sources of serious threats to population health and of public health innovations. More than ever, to understand what causes health and disease and to improve the health of the public requires an improved awareness of how urban living affects health and well-being.
In the United States, about 80% of the population lives in metropolitan areas and more than a quarter in the largest central cities. In the last half century, poverty and ill health have become increasingly concentrated in urban areas and many of the most serious health problems facing the nation (e.g., HIV infection, homicide, substance abuse) have their origins in cities (American College of Physicians, 1997). While there have been marked improvements in health in some areas in the past two decades, sharp disparities in health continue to characterize the nation and nowhere are these disparities greater than in cities. Indeed, unless the United States develops more effective strategies to improve the health of urban populations, it is unlikely to meet the health goals articulated in Healthy People 2010 (American College of Physicians, 1997; Freudenberg, 2000). These are the challenges the CUNY Urban Health Collaborative seeks to address.
What is the Urban Health Collaborative?
The City University of New York is uniquely situated to contribute to the solutions to urban health problems. Located in the largest city in the United States, with students who reflect the ethnic, language and cultural diversity of New York, CUNY has a long history of educating health professionals to serve urban communities, conducting social science and health research on urban health and social issues, and engaging with citizens, foundations, and policy makers in developing innovative solutions to urban health problems. With more than 100 academic programs that prepare health professionals for practice in urban communities and more than 150 active research projects related to the health of urban populations, CUNY already has substantial assets in urban health. By better coordinating these existing efforts and adding new resources, the CUNY Urban Health Collaborative seeks to make CUNY a national leader in research and education for healthier cities.
The CUNY Urban Health Collaborative seeks to:
- Strengthen existing CUNY health programs at all levels to prepare health professionals who have the knowledge and skills to work in diverse urban communities to address the multiple factors that contribute to health and disease;
- Foster multidisciplinary research projects in which CUNY faculty collaborate to study and reduce urban health problems;
- Create new opportunities to for doctoral-level education in urban health within existing CUNY doctoral programs;
- Develop new interventions to enable CUNY students to play an active role in promoting health and preventing diseases within their families, communities and workplaces;
- Assist citizens, communities, schools, advocacy organizations and elected officials to develop and evaluate policies that will improve the health of urban populations.