International Development, Community, and Environment

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Millions of low-income people of diverse ethnicities inhabit stressful old urban industrial neighborhoods. Yet we know little about the health impacts of built-environment stressors and risk perceptions in such settings; we lack even basic health profiles. Difficult access is one reason (it took us 30 months to survey 80 households); the lack of multifaceted survey tools is another. We designed and implemented a pilot vulnerability assessment tool in Worcester, Massachusetts. We answer: (1) How can we assess vulnerability to multiple stressors? (2) What is the nature of complex vulnerability-including risk perceptions and health profiles? (3) How can findings be used by our wider community, and what lessons did we learn? (4) What implications arise for science and policy? We sought a holistic picture of neighborhood life. A reasonably representative sample of 80 respondents captured data for 254 people about: demographics, community concerns and resources, time-activity patterns, health information, risk/stress perceptions, and resources/capacities for coping. Our key findings derive partly from the survey data and partly from our experience in obtaining those data. Data strongly suggest complex vulnerability dominated by psychosocial stress. Unexpected significant gender and ethnic disease disparities emerged: notably, females have twice the disease burden of males, and white females twice the burden of females of color (p < 0.01). Self-reported depression differentiated by gender and age is illustrative. Community based participatory research (CBPR) approaches require active engagement with marginalized populations, including representatives as funded partners. Complex vulnerability necessitates holistic, participatory approaches to improve scientific understanding and societal responses. © 2010 Society for Risk Analysis.

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Risk Analysis

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built environment, CBPR, disease burden, health disparities, marginalization, risk perception, vulnerability




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