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Urban Public Health and the Future of the Human Race
By Sam MacArthur

Urbanization is a force all around the world. According to UN statistics, as much as 68% of the world population – more than two-thirds – will be living in urban areas by 2050. Some researchers counter that those estimates are actually too conservative – in some areas of Central Asia, Asia, and Africa, the numbers could be closer to 90%. The future is mega-cities, and the human race will have to adapt to living in close quarters. Urban public health will need to develop with it.

What Is Urban Public Health, and What Makes it Distinct?

Urban public health is a branch of public health dedicated to community health problems in urban areas. As urbanization continues to increase in the US and worldwide, so too does the need for people interested in urban planning and public health careers.

Urban public health differs from rural public health in there are many rural vs urban health disparities. While highly rural and highly urban areas both frequently suffer from a lack of adequate health care, the impact of rural vs urban health disparities hits those communities differently. Urbanization problems and solutions are quite different from those in rural areas. Community health problems in urban areas can stem from unique aspects of urbanization that aren’t present in rural communities. Rural vs urban health disparities also dictate a need for people who know the difference between how public health works between the two.

While there are undoubtedly positive effects of urbanization – including increased access to resources and employment – these are unfortunately often balanced or outweighed by the urbanization health problems unique to cities. For example, public urban health must deal with the fact that diseases between people more quickly in an urban setting, making urban areas ripe for pandemics. Urban epidemiology is a great need in public health education.

Industrial structures in an urban area may introduce more pollutants, allergens, and toxicity than what’s found in the air of rural areas. Homelessness creates chronic health problems, including diseases like tuberculosis that have been eradicated from the rest of the population. Physical and mental issues in urban areas aren’t always similar to the same types of issues in a more rural area. These things all make urban public health not only important, but also something to build a health career on.

What Are Some Urban Public Health Careers?

Urban public health and dealing with urbanization health problems creates unique opportunities along with the traditional public health career options. Some urban planning and public health careers can include:

The field of urban public health is large and extends to any number of industries, sectors, and verticals. The public sector continues to employ many urban health professionals who can facilitate the positive effects of urbanization while dealing with the issues that crop up in the process. Rapid urbanization also means more need for public health services, and local administrators actively seek people out for that reason. The private sector also actively seeks out public health professionals for a multitude of reasons. Planning and health go together, so businesses often need people to help them with both.

Technology also plays a role, as it’s creating new career opportunities for those in public health. Big data makes it possible for biostatisticians and epidemiologists to understand what goes on in cities on a bigger scale than ever, to make plans for the long term, and to chart the impact of policies in real time, rather than years later. We can create computer models to predict population growth, anticipate dangers, and create solutions. In the future, artificial intelligence may be able to sort through millions of possible outcomes to help us make smarter plans.

Technology is also creating the means of combatting critical public health issues like environmental pollution; clean energy, better sanitation, sustainable food production, and other technological advancements will help keep populations healthier and more comfortable. Public health in the future will need to partner with the companies that develop technology to make sure that technological advancements do not come at the expense of population health, but actively improve health.

In addition, the changing political landscape regarding healthcare is also creating a need for experts in urban public health who can take on leadership roles within government. The people setting policy at the municipal level are often not as knowledgable about health as public health experts would prefer. That lack of understanding, together with the politician’s tendency to prefer easy, short-term decision-making over long-term but difficult choices, means that policy-makers often do not make public health as front and center as it needs to be. Shoddy quick fixes for endemic problems lead to further problems down the road.

How Much Does an Urban Public Health Career Pay?

Salaries for urban health positions will depend on the location of the job and experience of the applicant. The median base pay for public health jobs is $57k. Urban public health jobs typically offer more. In addition, urban environments create far more high-level job opportunities as there are far more urbanization problems and solutions needed.

For example, urban planner salaries average $71.4k/year. Some related jobs, such as city planner and urban designer also sit close to that figure. These careers also have an outlook rated as faster than average.

Some high paying career choices can include:

Combining an urban public health degree with another career can also help to create lucrative and rewarding career paths. A good example of this is the public health attorney, who can earn over $100k.

How Much Can an Urban Public Health Career Benefit a Community?

Urban public health is essential for dealing with urbanization problems and solutions. The need for a stronger and more robust public health infrastructure drives the need for governments and businesses to seek out those interested in urban public health. The job market for urban public health is growing, and cities will continue seeking out experts who can improve life for their citizens.

For those who value study and research, urban centers create an almost endless number of opportunities do just that. The positive effects of urbanization often occur or grow because of research and study. Cities are a vast laboratory for public health researchers, but that research has real, profound effects on communities. The work that is being done now to understand issues such as how diseases spread in urban areas, how urban life affects mental health, how community and population changes influence health, and how environmental hazards endanger city dwellers, will make all the difference in how those 70-90% of urbanites live in 2050, and how humanity will go on beyond the 21st century.

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