Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Deepti Adlakha

Dr. Deepti Adlakha is a Lecturer based at the School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast, United Kingdom. Born and raised in India, Dr. Adlakha is trained as an architect and urban designer. She was a Fulbright exchange fellow to the United States where she completed her Masters in Urban Design and PhD (Washington University in St. Louis, 2009-2015) prior to living in the UK. She is currently working on a project in India entitled Healthy Environments and Active Living in India (HEAL-INDIA).

George Warren Brown School PhD candidate portraits taken on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014 at Washington University in St. Louis. (Photo © Whitney Curtis)

Her research interests include:

  • Liveable Cities: Understanding the impact of the design of cities, outdoor public spaces, and streets on health and well-being.
  • Active Living: Studying characteristics of walkable environments and influences on health behaviours (physical activity, recreation), travel decisions, and commuting mode choices.
  • Urban Transformations in India: Interventions and strategies to provide equitable access to urban infrastructure, amenities and services (e.g., affordable housing, clean water, food, improved hygiene and sanitation)

Find her on Twitter  or visit her academic website.

Deepti is currently in India conducting fieldwork for her project. A short Q & A with Deepti:

What motivated you to choose this line of work? 

Growing up in India, I was accustomed to several cultural nuances, customs and diversity of everyday life—languages, traditions, religions, festivals, food and countless other aspects—around which everyday life was woven. I was also intrigued by how these aspects shaped the spaces we inhabit, not just inside homes but also out on the streets and in public spaces.  In July 2005, I personally endured Mumbai’s flood deluge, which taught me important life lessons, but also revealed many caveats of rapid, runaway urbanization in India. Twelve years later, the impacts of urbanization and environmental change are more real than ever. The way we design our cities has significant implications for the health, well-being and livelihood of its populations—and it is this realization that motivates me to pursue this line of work.

How do you see researchers and organizations collaborating on topics such as healthy cities, urban design and environmental exposures?

Across the world, we can now witness the implications of rapid urbanization and its stresses on the environment, infrastructure and services. The issues we face today are interconnected and overlapping, and no single researcher or organization has the breadth of skills or resources to undertake all facets of the crosscutting research work needed to meet the challenges of rapid urbanisation. This makes a compelling case for transdiscplinary, collaborative solutions for the future development of sustainable cities. Instead of competing with each other, researchers and organizations from various scientific disciplines can pool resources with each other and also include societal/ citizen groups to explore successful pathways towards global sustainability together. Collective and on-the-ground applied work is necessary, and in some cases this involves re-learning what we have been trained in. For example, because of diverse backgrounds, some professionals have been trained to follow different paradigms (models) in their specialties.

One example is the “medical model” versus the “public health model.”  The most significant difference between the two models is that public health activities focus on entire populations, whereas a clinical approach focuses on treatment of individual patients. However, research has now proven that many factors combine together to affect the health of individuals and communities. Commonly believed factors such as access and use of medical and health care services often have less of an impact, but whether people are healthy or not is largely determined by their circumstances and the surrounding environment. To a large extent, factors such as where we live, the state of our environment, our income, socio-economic status, education level, relationships with friends and family, as well as genetics, all have considerable impacts on health. This is where professionals from urban design/planning, engineering, geography and other social science, humanities disciplines can be part of the dialogue and decision-making process. What we need today is a comprehensive approach to community health, in which multidisciplinary professionals and even entire sectors of a community collaborate to plan, implement, monitor, evaluate, and subsequently modify activities and interventions.

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