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Partnership between Drexel Urban Health Collaborative and University of Alcalá leads to numerous collaborations

Street with people

February 26, 2020

The Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH), through its Urban Health Collaborative (UHC), has partnered with the University of Alcalá in Madrid, Spain, to mutually promote the advancement of scholarship, research, educational, and service activities in urban health since 2015.

The collaboration has focused on the exchange of visiting public health students, trainees, and faculty for research development. Trainees and researchers from University of Alcalá visited Drexel University and participated in UHC research projects and joint writing of scientific articles and scientific proposals for competitive funding. In addition, scholars have participated in the UHC’s annual Summer Institute and presented work at the biennial Urban Health Symposium.

Many of the previous visiting scholars have worked closely with the Heart Healthy Hoods project, led by Manual Franco, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Public Health School of Medicine at the Universidad de Alcalá. The Heart Healthy Hoods project aims to measure the food, physical activity, alcohol and tobacco environments of hundreds of neighborhoods in Madrid and to correlate the results with cardiovascular primary care health records. Franco’s work has synergies with the UHC’s expertise in looking at neighborhood environments and cardiovascular health. Usama Bilal, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor, is currently working with Elena Plans, MD, MPH, visiting scholar at the Urban Health Collaborative in the Dornsife School of Public Health. She is currently studying cardiovascular disease and green spaces at Alcalá University in their doctoral program as well as being in a second-year physician internship in Preventive Medicine and Public Health of Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid.

This partnership has seen several scientific articles published, including the most recent, “A Comparative Case Study of Walking Environment in Madrid and Philadelphia Using Multiple Sampling Methods and Street Virtual Audits.” Pedro Gullón, MD, PhD, led the study and was most recently a visiting scholar at the Urban Health Collaborative. Gullón worked directly with UHC co-director Gina Lovasi, PhD, MPH, who is also on the study. The objective of this research is to study cross-city differences in the walking environment between two cities using Madrid and Philadelphia as a case example. The two cities were compared using virtual audits, street function, safety, aesthetics, and destinations. Few studies have compared street characteristics that contribute to walkability in different national settings. A more common approach has been to compare a narrower set of neighborhood-level walkability measures using secondary or survey data in different cities.

Madrid streets were characterized by a greater number of walking destinations, while Philadelphia streets tend to have better function and possibly a greater presence of safety elements. This research approach can help in identifying and understanding which elements of the built environment could be key to uncover mass influences of walking that operate at the city level. Future studies should include attention to the potential impact of built environment characteristics on walking at the whole city level across a wider range of cities.

The partnership between Drexel Urban Health Collaborative and University of Alcalá will continue to expand in the future with projects focused on both institutions missions and values. Improving health in cities by increasing scientific knowledge is huge driver of this partnership.