APEN has financially been supported by the philanthropic foundation Realdania to establish an international research network Active Cities Network (ACN). The Network aims to collect and disseminate knowledge about activity and health-enhancing physical environments, related research questions, results and methods on an international level. The starting point of the Network is a broad understanding of public health, which draws on people's daily lives arenas. Special focus is on everyday activities and how social interaction and movement can support inclusion and promote health and quality of life.
The network consists of eight European research centers that all studies how physical environments can positively improve human activity habits and health. The partners are:
Professor Kimmo Suomi (University of Jyväskylä, Finland), Professor Romeo Farinella (University of Ferrara, Italy), assistant professor Antonio Borgogni (University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, Italy), Associate Professor Karin Book (Malmö University, Sweden), Professor Jens Troelsen (University of Southern Denmark), Associate Professor Astrid Pernille Jespersen (University of Copenhagen), and Associate Professor René Kural (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation).The network is managed and coordinated daily by René Kural. PhD- students and postdoctoral scholars from the universities will contribute to the network's perspective.
In an international perspective, most of the research into the relationship between the built environment and physical activity can be found in two areas: 1. public health (physical activity and health behavior) and 2. urban planning (transport patterns). It's new, that these two areas are based on the physical environment characteristics as crucial in fostering or hindering physical activity. As two of the most comprehensive studies of the literature conclude the weaknesses of previous research are deficient theories and models, inadequate research methods and incomplete data.
Research in activity-promoting environments is a field of research that primarily has had attention in the United States, Japan and a number of developing countries and known as for example Urban Medicine. The term covers a regulatory solution discipline that has an eye for how to prevent diseases that occur more frequently in densely populated urban areas than elsewhere: asthma, cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, etc. Urban Medicine has primarily been discussed by health professionals who now appeal to architects, planners and engineers to enter the field. The argument is that built environments that encourage the possibility of voluntary body cultural activities and which promotes "the general good life" is far more effective than for example vaccines or insulin (diabetes type II).
Key concepts are 1) "the physical environment", broadly defined to include land uses (activities), transportation systems (relations between activities) and design features that refers to the aesthetic, physical and functional qualities of the built and natural environment, which together provide opportunities for transport and physical activity. And 2) "physical activity", defined as any muscular effort which increases the energy conversion
For all partners, it is anticipated that the formation of the network will help to develop the common knowledge base and through our teaching also have a spillover effect on the training of researchers and graduates as well as professionals. The interdisciplinary perspective on urban and community opens up unique possibilities for a new specialization of the students. These will to a much greater extent than previous could go across the educational opportunities and "tailor" their education with the core skills that the individual finds meaningful in relation to personal interests and career. For the partners, it will mean that we can help to develop specialists with a focus on body culture and health inequalities, which we assess the labor market and the international society demands in very large scale.
Upon the establishment of the network entirely new research constellations and opportunities occur, as the network members use complementary and related methods in the humanities and social sciences. Since we take an interdisciplinary approach, the network is expected to develop completely new concepts, methods and knowledge that prospectively may be used in a research-based urban planning that focuses on activity and health-enhancing physical environments.
In the existence period of the network, there are two criteria for success:
1) To consolidate this field of research across the eight participating universities disciplines, and
2) To share knowledge and create mutual synergy between the participating environments through cooperation on major research applications and projects.
The network must:
3) Contribute to the development of new knowledge, new initiatives and research training through interdisciplinary research focused on the local community and its urban spaces.
4) Coordinate across ongoing research, development and practice, so as to provide input and oversight.
5) Establish a platform for an inter-institutional research environment for discussion of relevant research topics and methods from here contributes heavily to improve (further) education of students and professionals.