Engaging Urban Residents in Assessing Neighborhood Environments and Their Implications for Health
Researchers have worked to delineate the manner in which urban environments reflect broader social processes, such as those creating racially, ethnically and economically segregated communities with vast differences in aspects of the built environment, opportunity structures, social environments, and environmental exposures. Interdisciplinary research is essential to gain an enhanced understanding of the complex relationships between these stressors and protective factors in urban environments and health. The purpose of this study was to examine the ways that multiple factors may intersect to influence the social and physical context and health within three areas of Detroit, Michigan. We describe the study design and results from seven focus groups conducted by the Healthy Environments Partnership (HEP) and how the results informed the development of a survey questionnaire and environmental audit tool. The findings from the stress process exercise used in the focus groups described here validated the relevance of a number of existing concepts and measures, suggested modifications of others, and evoked several new concepts and measures that may not have been captured without this process, all of which were subsequently included in the survey and environmental audit conducted by HEP. Including both qualitative and quantitative methods can enrich research and maximize the extent to which research questions being asked and hypotheses being tested are driven by the experiences of residents themselves, which can enhance our efforts to identify strategies to improve the physical and social environments of urban areas and, in so doing, reduce inequities in health.