Historical perspectives on the interplay between public health and urban planning in Penang, Malaysia


  • Dr Katrina Proust

    International Institute for Global Health

Project summary

Human society is rapidly becoming urbanised. Urbanism offers significant opportunities for improved human health, but it also has serious negative health impacts. The development of policies to improve urban health, and mitigate risks, is hampered by the loss of the traditional collaboration between the public health and urban planning professions. This loss was seen worldwide during the 20th century, suggesting that this bifurcation is a natural occurrence, not contingent on local circumstances. This is consistent with the hypothesis that urban systems evolve naturally into polycentric structures, often with reduced communication between governance centres.

We will investigate this hypothesis using an innovative approach that blends historical data with system analysis in a pilot study of George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Archival research will be undertaken to identify significant transitions in the relationship between urban health and planning from 1786 to 1986. The data will be analysed using a systems approach to explain the drivers of change in the complex interactions between urban form, environment and health, and to identify promising ways to rebuild the relationship between public health and urban planning. This study will also identify a network of scholars and governance groups interested in further integrative work in this arena.