Kristoffer Mattisson - June 2023
To start with, I want to ask where you are from and what has been your path to where you are now?
Today, I'm an associate professor at the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which belong to the medical faculty and I work within the field of environmental medicine and epidemiology, where I have been for over 10 years now. I finished my PhD about commuting and health in 2016 from the same division and since then, my research focus has moved towards studying the health impact from traffic on the general population through different environmental exposures such as noise, air pollution, heat, and access to urban green areas within the urban environment, instead of focusing on the commuter or travelers themselves. Before all this, I started off in the field of physical geography where I did my bachelor and masters at the Department of Physical Geography, also at Lund University. It was during my work with my master thesis that I got in contact with the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and started transitioning into the field that I am currently working in. Many things are different from where I started but I have had a lot of use of the skills I learned there, especially GIS (geographical information systems) which is a tool that I use a lot in my work to both analyze and assess different environmental exposures through- for example models on noise, air pollution and access to green areas. For a long time, I also worked part-time as an environmental hygienist at a clinic that is part of the southern healthcare region (Södra Sjukvårdregionen). Here I worked clinically with the effects of the environment on health and wellbeing, often acting as a support to municipalities, regional county boards and different authorities, working both with- for example, issues like high levels of ground pollution as well as a lot of indoor environments. But since around three and a half years now, I am fully employed by the university.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and specifically how it relates to the Urban Arena?
We are around 60-70 people that work here- spread over eight different research groups and as a division, we have a very broad area of interests that stretches from some of my colleagues that work more focused on occupational exposures, to me and my research group that is working with environmental aspects. This research group is called Planetary Health (Planetär hälsa — Lunds universitet) and we are focusing on how different environmental factors are affecting people’s health. This is of course connected to the built environment and how climate change can alter the setting and change environmental exposures. Often these exposures overlap, I started out with studying noise but now I also work with air pollution, urban green and heat since you have to consider them all, as many of the sources of the exposures, for instance traffic, are the same- as well as the health outcomes.
When it comes to your current research, can you tell me a bit more about what kind of projects you are working on?
I have quite a few different projects going on, but one that's very related to Urban arena is called Densifying the cities without increased environmental health burden-is it attainable? (Andas frisk luft och höra fågelsång i en tät stad - hur kommer vi dit? — Lunds universitet) In this project we worked with a very broad group of researchers from different departments of LTH, for example CEC (Center for Environmental and Climate science), as well as Malmö- and Gothenburg university, in a close collaboration with the Malmö and Helsingborg municipalities. There are many different disciplines represented in the project and we work with modelling and measuring air pollution and noise as well the effects that densifying an area might have on access to green areas and their positive effects on ecosystem services. In one part of the project, we study Lorensborg in Malmö where the municipality plan on densifying the area and increasing the number of inhabitants by around 50%. We analyzed the specific plan-program and what kind of health consequences might occur for the inhabitants living in the area, from a noise perspective. Then, we collaborated with a planning architect to develop an alternative scenario where we focused on health aspects in the densification. This alternative scenario effected the location of buildings and roads, number of floors of the buildings and distribution of urban green areas, and it became an interesting comparison. We do a similar study in Drottninghög in Helsingborg where they have plans on a significant densification, in this study we also include air pollution in the health consequence analysis.
Another example of my current research is a project called HEAP - Health promoting Environments for an Aging Population | LUPOP. where we are looking closer at urban green and use of social services. In this study we look at people older than 65, living in Malmö and Kristianstad municipalities between the years of 2010-2019. We investigate if there is a correlation between if you as resident have access to a lot of urban green, both in total amount, if it is publicly accessible, in a quiet environment and if it Is located within 300 meters from where you live- and eventual effects on usage of public services. In the project we are still working on the analysis so it will be interesting how it develops
I am also involved in a project called Nord Sound where we study traffic and occupational noise exposure and a lot of different health outcomes. Pretty recently, Swedish legislation has started to allow more noise where we build, and this is in opposition to the World Health Organization that released new, stricter guideline values for noise exposure in 2018. This points towards quite a lot of discrepancy between the Swedish legislation and how it is developing and what is to be considered as healthy noise levels. The project is a Nordic collaboration that has been going on for a while, we started talking about it around eight years ago and now we have started publishing quite big studies that span over Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland to improve what we know about noise and its connection to health factors like, for example, cardiovascular diseases and even cancer.
And are there any emerging concepts or ideas within your research field that you find especially interesting and want to explore more?
Something interesting that I have done some research, but mostly teaching on, is climate and how it affects health. I have helped the Public health agency of Sweden to develop a simple mapping tool that makes it easier for small and middle sized municipalities to map areas at risk of developing higher temperatures during heat waves. It is a tool that some municipalities have started to use to better understand the consequences of high temperatures and heatwaves in urban planning. This area is something that I think is very important in the kind of research that I am involved in, and it is also great that the output is applicable and can be used by the practitioners- this is a main focus for the research group that I am in. Generally, we do a lot of health consequence analysis where we work with people outside of academia, for example, we helped Malmö municipality calculate health consequences based on their latest strategic noise map, which is just one of many ways and opportunities to collaborate with other areas and stakeholders to do research that can be used in practice.
Can you tell me a little bit more about what you find interesting with cities and if you have any examples of cities that you like or find interesting in relation to your research?
I think that for example Barcelona is interesting in its implementation of superblock to reduce traffic and increase the urban green. Copenhagen is also a nice city where the usage of bicycles instead of driving for a large amount of people is well adapted. They are both examples of how to deal with some of the issues of cities from a health perspective. You are almost always going to have higher environmental exposure inside the city, and this is something that we must deal with in relation to the ongoing urbanization. From an environmental perspective the densification of cities is generally viewed as something positive to ensure sustainable development but in this process, it is important that we consider health if we want to have attractive cities that we actually want to live in. That is why it is so interesting to work with urban environments and health, it is complex but so important!
What are your thoughts on Urban Arena? Is there anything that you find especially interesting or unique about it?
I have been involved for about one year now and I think it is a very good way of getting in contact with other researchers that are interested in urban development and have other competences than your own. It is about getting this inter- and cross disciplinary work going, which is very important in the kind of projects that I am involved in. As an example, looking at our work that deals with densification it has been very important to get input from other disciplines, like urban planners to help us imagine different scenarios of development so that we can study their possible effects.
I have also been involved in other similar types of networks, for example ´Hälsofrämjande samhällsplanering´ a collaboration outside of the university together with Region Skåne and the county board, where we promoted health and societal development. Another example is Sound environment center, where we try to create good possibilities for research related to sound. I have been involved in this for around seven years now and is currently the chairman of the board. I think that these sort of questions on sharing knowledge is also what the Urban Arena is about, a possibility to connect with others and getting inspired by their ideas. We are two people from the Urban Arena steering group who will be involved in a Pufendorf initiative where we will discuss the ´Sound of democracy´ starting in the autumn 2023, which will be very interesting.
Do you have any wishes or hopes for how the urban arena could develop or what could change in the network?
I think that if we could include more health perspectives in the Urban Arena, that would be great. With this ambition, we want to continue arranging seminars with some of the other focus areas of Urban Arena where we discuss it further. We started with a seminar together with ‘Governance, participation, planning and innovation’ and ‘Mobility, transport and accessibility’ and our hope is to continue having these meetings on a more regular basis. Hopefully this can result in joint applications and help stimulate collaborative research over the boundaries of different disciplines.
Any final thoughts?
I think that it is great to be part of Urban Arena, the activities that are arranged within the network are really interesting and like I said, it is a good possibility to improve your research by including other disciplines. It takes time and effort to collaborate and there are definitely challenges, but it is worth it to be able to develop your research with contributing ideas.