Cities are vibrant social and cultural hubs with immense economic activity — but many people who live in cities do not thrive because they do not have what they need to live healthy lives and face barriers to prosperity.

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Sharon Roerty, Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The good news is that:

  • Urban health challenges and inequities are largely preventable by modifying physical and social environments.
  • Every city department and each community member can make an important contribution to improving health equity.
  • People are the solution. Community-driven initiatives, where community members work in collaboration with local government, are often highly effective at improving quality of life for everyone.

Remarkable sustainable development initiatives are being executed around the world and the strategies, solutions and learnings are transferable. Even in the most challenging political, economic, and built environments, communities are driving powerful change in their own backyards.

What is this?

Developed by the International Society for Urban Health (ISUH), this Active-Learning Resource Center provides insights from experienced practitioners and practical guidance to drive greater health equity around the world. This is an open platform where practitioners, community leaders and city governments may connect, exchange ideas and grow the equitable development community of practice.

Who is it for?

The resource center is for anyone who is working to improve the physical and social environments where we live, work, play, including:

  • Government Leaders
  • Sustainable Development Practitioners (i.e., community leaders, urban planners, real estate developers, architects, placemakers, etc.)
  • Students

Why do we need this?

In cities around the world, the neighborhood where a person lives is the leading predictor of how long they will live, resulting in vast differences in life span even for people living within the same city. This is true because many neighborhoods have been developed with legal and planning instruments deeply rooted in underlying injustices and inequities that impact our environments. Since 90% of health outcomes are determined by physical and social environments, the good news is that environmental changes can solve critical health equity issues. Yet, cities and practitioners leading development projects:

  • Lack the tools and resources to consider health equity impacts
  • Do not meaningfully engage community members in development planning

ISUH launched the ACE Project to address this problem, studying dozens of successful equitable development initiatives that improve health and promote economic opportunities in cities around the world. City officials, practitioners, and community leaders shared their insights, strategies, and learnings with us, and we distilled those findings into the tools and resources on this website. Our goal is to provide guidance to drive greater health equity, and to grow a community of practice where equitable development leaders can connect with one another, build partnerships and create healthier places where all people can thrive.

What are the benefits?

When people’s needs are not met, they do not thrive, they do not contribute to their fullest capacity, and they stress government infrastructure and social service systems. On the other hand, when people have access to safe and affordable housing, parks and bikeways, clean air and water, healthy affordable food, childcare, and livable wages they are healthier, more economically stable, and able to contribute to their communities. Supporting health equity, building economic opportunity, and working to remove inequities in underserved communities benefits everyone.

If you…

… have 1 minute: download “Five Building Blocks for Equity” (two-pager overview of essential approaches)

… have 5 minutes: watch a video in the Stories from the Field section to get a sense of how the five actions play out in reality and what the impact can be, even in the world’s most challenging political, social, economic and physical environments.

… are leading a project or planning a city initiative: download the Starter Kit from the Getting Started section for exercises and guidance to apply an equity lens to your work.

… are interested in updates on taking a workshop, course or a training: sign up for our Mailing List.

ACE on the Media

February 26, 2024
Cities Around the World Sharing Success Stories of Health Equity
Blog post by the Clinton Global Initiative
December 2024
Creating Healthy Cities for All.
The International Society for Urban Health identifies the “building blocks” for fair, healthy environments where residents thrive. 
Article published in Next City’s Solutions of the Year 20th Anniversary Special Issue 

ACE Project Leadership

Carlos Dora, MD — Project Co-Director

Carlos Dora, MD — Project Co-Director

Dr. Carlos Dora has a distinguished career in global public health and environment. Until recently, he coordinated the WHO’s global work on health impacts of sector policies (energy, transport, housing, extractive industry) and on articulating a global response to air pollution. He led the development of a new Urban Health Initiative to strengthen health systems capacity in cities to support health, climate and air quality benefits from urban policies, which is under pilot implementation in Africa and Asia. He also led the development of a framework for how public health can contribute to Habitat III objectives and the New Urban Agenda. He previously led knowledge synthesis about the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation policies, in a “Health in a Green Economy” series and contributed to the development of health indicators for post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. He has worked to include health into strategic environment assessments and into Development Banks Safeguards. He contributed to establishment of an inter-ministerial process for transport health and environment in Europe (THE PEP), led a health task force in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, and earlier engaged in health risk assessments in the ex-Soviet Union. He has worked in academia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and as a visiting professor at Columbia University School of Public Health. He worked at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, with the World Bank, and in the organization and innovation of primary care systems in Brazil, where he also practiced clinical medicine. He has served in many science/policy committees at national and international levels and is engaged in many global partnerships. He currently advises governments, civil society and philanthropy about health as it relates to non-heath sector policies and the urban environment. His research and publications include health impact assessment as well as perceptions and communication of science and health risks by scientists, media and politicians. He is a medical doctor and an epidemiologist with an MSc and a PhD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Giselle Sebag, MPH, LEED AP — Project Co-Director

Giselle Sebag, MPH, LEED AP — Project Co-Director

Giselle Sebag is Executive Director of the International Society for Urban Health. She is a globally recognized urban health leader with 15 years of experience advising governments, multilaterals, NGOs and private sector companies to develop sustainable, inclusive and resilient cities that promote and enhance resident health.

Prior to joining the International Society for Urban Health, Giselle was a public sector consultant at Bloomberg Associates, where she advised cities developing evidence-based urban health solutions with the aim of improving the lives of the greatest number of citizens. Previously, Giselle was the Vice President of Programs at the Center for Active Design (CfAD), where she oversaw the development, planning and implementation of innovative programs such as Fitwel, a leading certification system committed to building health for all, developed in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to implement environmental design and operational changes that support healthier workplaces, homes and communities. Prior to that, Giselle was Head of the Built Environment portfolio at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) where she selected, managed key relationships with, and advised Fortune 500 companies, governments, multilaterals, philanthropic foundations and NGOs in strategic planning, partnership building and evaluation of their healthy cities ‘Commitments to Action.’

Giselle holds a Master’s of Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, joint M.Sc. degrees in international cooperation and urban development from the Technische Universität Darmstadt and international cooperation in sustainable emergency architecture from the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, and bachelor’s degrees in architecture and government from the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture (UTSOA) and College of Liberal Arts.

ACE Project Team

Lia Brum, MSc — ACE Project Manager

Lia Brum, MSc — ACE Project Manager

A versatile and multilingual professional with a 15-year career in international nonprofits, Lia is an energetic and detail-oriented team player with critical thinking and strategic vision. Her skills encompass project management, content editing, event organization, public speaking, fundraising, procurement, and reporting.

Prior to joining the International Society for Urban Health, Lia worked for the World Association of the Major Metropolises, where she managed knowledge exchange projects and strengthened her capacities to liaise with various stakeholders, most notably mayors, senior officials and technical staff of major cities and metropolitan areas worldwide. Her diverse professional background is complemented by previous experience in biodiversity conservation finance, environmental corporate responsibility, educational media, and scientific dissemination.

Lia holds joint M.Sc. degrees in international cooperation and urban development from the Technische Universität Darmstadt and international cooperation in sustainable emergency architecture from the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, and bachelor’s degrees in Journalism (UFRJ, Brazil) and International Relations (PUC-Rio, Brazil), as well as complementary education in environmental management (UFRJ, Brazil) and business (Harvard Business School).

Camilla Calamandrei, MA — ACE Storytelling and Content Development

Camilla Calamandrei, MA — ACE Storytelling and Content Development

Camilla leads story telling and content development for the Accelerating City Equity (ACE) program telling inspiring stories of human-centered, cost-effective, sustainable development projects around the world that improve health and well-being, decrease environmental damage, and promote equity.

Camilla is an award-winning director/producer of independent feature documentaries (PBS, Animal Planet, Planet Green), and a content development specialist in public programs, educational coursework, and interactive media for children. (The Jim Henson Company, LEGO, and Scholastic).

Camilla was previously Program Manager for CGI America (Clinton Foundation) and Head of Programs for Urban Green Council. MA, Documentary Film Production, Stanford University. BA, Literature, Brown University.

Nishita Dsouza, MPH, PhD — ACE Project Research Collaborator

Nishita Dsouza, MPH, PhD — ACE Project Research Collaborator

Nishita (Nishi) Dsouza is a Project Research Collaborator of the Accelerating City Equity (ACE) Project of the International Society for Urban Health (ISUH). She is a researcher dedicated to promoting livable and equitable communities, with extensive experience in academic, nonprofit, and public sector settings on projects related to built environment and health, access to health and social care, and community-engaged research. Dr. Dsouza currently works at the Social Intervention Group (SIG) at the Columbia School of Social Work. Dr. Dsouza has a B.S. in Human Science from Georgetown University, an M.P.H specialized in Urban Design from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, and a Ph.D. in Community Health and Prevention from the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University.

Camille Medema, MPH, BSN RN — ACE Project Research Assistant

Camille Medema, MPH, BSN RN — ACE Project Research Assistant

Camille Medema, MPH, BSN RN is a public health professional with extensive field-based experience in the US and Latin America. She is passionate about working with communities to find solutions that improve health and well-being, especially with a race equity lens. Camille graduated from Calvin University with a BSN in nursing, and a Masters in Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked in community-based programs in mental health and maternal and newborn care in the US. She also lived for 7 years in Bolivia, where she led WASH programs, large-scale data collection for field trials in conservation, and supported grass-roots organizational project planning, monitoring, and evaluation. Prior to joining ISUH, Camille was program manager for ARCHIVE Global, supporting Mud to Mortar in Bangladesh. The stories she is privileged to hear – through in-depth interviews with key actors in the fight against chagas disease, monitoring a community health promoter training program, or surveys of farmers who conserve their water resources – are the input and inspiration for her work.

Araliya Ming Senerat, MPH, PMP — Research Associate

Araliya Ming Senerat, MPH, PMP — Research Associate

Araliya Ming Senerat, MPH, PMP is a public health professional who specializes in the intersection of built environment and health research. Araliya earned an MPH degree in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and holds a BSc in Health Studies, Co-operative Program from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. Before joining the ISUH, she worked at the Well Living Lab assisting in the development and execution of indoor environment and physiology research studies and at ARCHIVE Global implementing a needs assessment in Cameroon to understand the current sanitation infrastructure. She also has worked at the Center for Active Design conducting literature reviews for Fitwel® for Multifamily Residential, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai writing research publications on the impact of active design features, and at the Women’s Strength Coalition organizing powerlifting meets to raise funds for women and LGBTQ organizations. Before earning her master’s degree, Araliya worked in New York, Toronto, Vancouver, and Singapore. She has experience in health services, cancer, and obesity research.

Patrin Watanatada, MA – Distilling and Sharing Insights on Accelerating City Equity

Patrin Watanatada, MA – Distilling and Sharing Insights on Accelerating City Equity

Patrin leads the development of the Accelerating City Equity (ACE) assessment framework, our core framework for distilling what’s working around the world to drive equity in sustainable urban development. She also collaborates with the ACE team on tools and content to share these insights with practitioners.

Patrin is an independent consultant working with nonprofits, foundations, and creative businesses to use ideas to spark equitable cross-sector change. She was previously the first knowledge for policy director at the Bernard van Leer Foundation, where she helped develop their award-winning Urban95 programme to link urban planning and healthy early childhoods. Patrin has also worked in social change communications (at Fenton), strategy consulting (at SustainAbility and Oliver Wyman), and in a biomass energy start-up in Thailand.

Patrin serves on the board of Capita, a think tank working to build a future where all children and families flourish. She is involved with her local anti-racism and climate action groups, and has become passionate about community-led change.