This project was part of a collaborative, inter-disciplinary study on the role of the urban environment in shaping illness, health and well-being, initiated by the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. As one of the project partners, the Children’s Institute led a sub-project on Healthy Cities for Children.

The Healthy Cities for Children component involved a multi-disciplinary research team to contribute to an understanding of the situation and well-being of children in diverse urban settings in South Africa. The research aimed to:

  • investigate how child nutrition and health are influenced by a particular urban setting and new urban planning;
  • develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which urban planning influences the accessibility of health care services and the health-seeking behaviour of children, youth and their caregivers;
  • contribute to understanding how various urban settings and the new urban planning affect networks of child care; and
  • grow research expertise in the fields of children’s studies and urban planning studies, and of “mixed methods” studies in these fields.

Assisted by supervisors and other mentor researchers, four post-graduate students focused on the impact of the urban environment on child nutrition; patterns of geographic mobility and child care arrangements; urban fatherhood and child care; and children's access to health facilities, respectively. A number of Healthy Cities for Children workshops and “Urban Child Citylabs” were organised between 2011 and early 2014 to bring together researchers, postgraduate students, urban town planners and policy-makers to discuss research evidence and debate how healthier urban environments can be created.

The Children’s Institute also contributed to the collaboration by conducting a first round of fieldwork in Khayelitsha, one of the largest townships in the country. Bodymap techniques were used to enable discussion on the concepts of health, well-being and the influence of the urban environment on these. Workshops in three different types of settlements showed a need to be careful with the uncontextualised copying of concepts of health and well-being developed in the North onto South Africa’s more complex, post-apartheid urban situation.

This research has assembled evidence to assist government decision-makers and practitioners to create policies, programmes and institutions that support children’s well-being in urban environments.

A grant from the South Africa–Netherlands Research Programme on Alternatives in Development (SANPAD) has supported this work.

Health Cities for Children project team: Children's Institute: Ariane De Lannoy, Katharine Hall. African Centre for Cities: Jane Battersby-Lennard. Department of Anthropology: Efua Prah, supervised by Susan Levine; Andile Mayekiso, supervised by Fiona Ross; Health Science Faculty: Manyeleti Sambo, supervised by Michael Hendricks. Researcher mentors: Shirley Pendlebury (Emeritus Professor at UCT); Ria Reis (Medical University of Leiden/University of Amsterdam); Karen Tranberg Hansen (North Western University, USA)

Further reading

Healthy Cities website (African Centre for Cities, UCT)