This dissertation investigates the intertwined relationship between the built environment and human and ecological health. The project developed and implemented a collaborative action approach to explore the potential for transdisciplinary urban ecological design interventions to be creative, effective, resource efficient and sustainable strategies to relieve burdens of disease, improve degraded urban environments, and address social inequities. The research explored the context of slum communities – places having harsh human, environmental and ecological health conditions. Using an applied Transdisciplinary Action Research (TDAR) approach to investigation, the team conducted a design-build-research project that implemented household and community gardens with residents of the informal floating slum community of Claverito in Iquitos, Peru and measured changes in human and ecological health over one year. This project tested the incorporation of health research into design practice, community design interventions as part of health initiatives, and deep community engagement to maximize impact. This dissertation presents the research in three manuscripts in preparation for publication: 1) Assessing social-ecological
health conditions in a Latin American slum community, 2) Human and ecological health outcomes of a Gardens Intervention in a Latin American slum community, 3) Using Transdisciplinary Action Research (TDAR) and a Gardens Intervention project to target human and ecological health issues in an urban slum community.
Outcomes of this research include: a) the development of a Community Social-Ecological Assessment Framework for gathering human-species-environment data in slum communities, applied to Claverito; b) analysis of the modification of the TDAR framework to target human and ecological health issues in Claverito and include a participatory design approach; c) results of the human and ecological health assessment after the Gardens Intervention: positive trend in land pollution and biodiversity of plants (change in H’ = 15.48 and 1-D = .73), birds
(change in H’ = 15.48 and 1-D = .07), and butterflies (change in H’ = .51 and 1-D = .01), significant positive changes in community beautification (p <.001), social relationships (p <.001), injuries and falls (p <.001), access to medicine (p <.001), self grown medicinal plants (p <.001), food security (p <.001), and mental wellbeing (p =.02), with household beautification not statistically significant (p = .53) and a slight decline in biodiversity of amphibians (change in H’ = .09 and 1-D = -.02); d) results of the Design Impact Assessment: residents perceived the Gardens Intervention to have meaningful positive change across all indicators of land pollution, environment, beautification, social wellbeing, medicine security, food security and mental wellbeing; and e) outcomes of the Design Sustainability Assessment: positive indication of project sustainability and stewardship in Claverito across indicators of financial investment, emotional investment, durability and use, ownership, economics and education.