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Pollution and poor urban health in China are often framed as private problems. However, the Chinese public is increasingly voicing ways to improve health. Our UNC Project-China team launched a crowdsourcing contest to tap into these proposed solutions.

A screenshot from the winning video depicts air pollution in China.

Air pollution contributes to the deaths of nearly 1.6 million people a year or 4,400 a day die in China, according to a 2015 study. Just this year, environmental inspectors found that 14,000 companies in China failed to meet standards for controlling air pollution.

Pollution and poor urban health in China are often framed as intractable, private problems. However, the Chinese public is increasingly identifying actionable, smart and local ways to improve urban public health. Recognizing this growing capacity, clinician-researchers at UNC Project-China, based in Guangzhou, organized an open contest to solicit contributions about what makes a healthy city and strategies for achieving a healthy city in China.

“There is growing public interest in the environment and how that impacts health in China today,” said Joseph Tucker, MD, PhD, director of UNC Project-China. “Not only academic groups, but also citizens are thinking about how to improve the health of local cities.”

Individuals submitted texts, images and videos over a five-week period. Each contribution was evaluated by at least four people, with the first phase consisting of crowd evaluation and final decisions made by a multi-sectoral panel. The panel included distinguished experts and local citizens, in partnership with the scientific journal The Lancet and Tsinghua University. Contributions were judged on capacity to create change, feasibility and innovation.

The contest drew 449 submissions from 142 cities in China. Fifty-nine contributions were deemed exceptional by the panel and will be recognized on July 11, which is World Population Day.

“Our website nearly buckled under the weight of 45,160 unique individuals,” said Tucker. “These contest submissions provide a point of reference for Chinese perspectives on healthy cities. But more importantly, they hint at a new model for mass community engagement in healthy cities. We hope this will inspire others to solicit community feedback on healthy cities.”

Finalists’ submissions and more details about the contest are available here.