Department chair and urban geographer James Dunn likes to bend studies around natural experiments. He studies living communities as they undergo transformations, and explores how built environments affect the mental and physical health in neighbourhoods and communities.
Early in his career, he helped reveal how neighbourhoods that naturally evolve toward greater socioeconomic and cultural diversity produce better health outcomes among those who live there. More recently, though, his focus has turned to the question of whether this kind of healthy mixed neighbourhood can be engineered – or at least fostered – through public policy.
Some connections are obvious – parks, pedestrian friendly streets and accessible transit can all promote healthy activity, reducing prevalence of diabetes, obesity and other conditions. Some connections are more subtle: For more than a decade, Dunn has been studying Toronto’s Regent Park, the largest urban redevelopment project in Canadian history. He has found clear evidence that people who are more satisfied with their housing and neighbourhood, and who feel safer and more secure, also enjoy improvements to their overall health.
Dunn partners with many community organizations and government departments in Hamilton, Toronto and elsewhere. Such partnerships help Dunn design his research projects to answer the right questions, and also ensure that the insights coming from his work end up where they can have the greatest impact.