Researchers are developing an application that allows users to learn about air quality, greenery, walkability, and other factors contributing to the environmental health of their neighbourhoods.

The project, dubbed E-Best (Equity in the Built Environment Surveillance Tool), involves a multi-university team and will be rolled out in stages over the next four years.

The web-enabled app is designed to expose environmental inequities among communities across Canada and enable public health agencies tracking small-area chronic disease patterns to explore connections with standard environmental indicators.

The app will allow users to easily access, share, and contribute to Canadian environmental data, and to understand how factors like poor air quality are linked to diseases like asthma in their communities.

“We’re really able to provide a nationally consistent window of environmental factors and take this information to a whole other level in terms of packaging the data to support chronic disease surveillance and the role environment plays,” said project lead Jeffrey Brook, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“We’ll see much more closely how risk factors or beneficial factors in environment overlay with geographic distribution of socio-economic factors.”

Brook, who is working with Associate Professor Laura Rosella on the project, recently co-authored a paper using data from the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE) to show that lack of greenery and walkability are more common in lower income neighbourhoods than among higher-income communities within the same Canadian cities.

According to Brook, being able to identify inequities is a key step in guiding decision-making around urban planning and other infrastructure decisions.

The prototype plan is to make it possible for anyone to use the app to learn how their postal code ranks on factors that go well beyond the standard environmental measures. For example, the app should be able help one choose travel routes that maximize good air quality, shade-giving trees and a crowd-sourced score on the feeling of safety.

The research project received $1 million in funding from the federal government.

Collaborators include: Associate Professor Gillian Booth of Dalla Lana’s Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME) and the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital, and CANUE Managing Director Eleanor Setton at the University of Victoria.

Featured image from U of T, by Daria Perevezentsev.

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