Around 60% of Glaswegians live within 500m of derelict land, according to a new survey – the highest percentage of any local authority in Scotland.

That can be bad for their health, according to Professor Juliana Maantay, Fulbright Visiting Professor at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, as many derelict areas – she calls them dismissed lands – are contaminated post-industrial sites.

Her survey identified 1,300 hectares of "dismissed" lands in the city which are contaminated or need some kind of remediation, on 925 sites.

As well as a health challenge, this is also a point of comparison with Prof Maantay's home town of New York City, and hence of research interest.

She is in Glasgow on a six-month project to analyse health inequalities in the city, having previously carried out similar work in the United States.

"Glasgow is like a mini version of New York in a lot of ways," she explains. "Both have a history of slum tenements and are post-industrial cities which have been struggling to some degree after the industry has left."

Glaswegians, she says are much like New Yorkers, but sadly so is the medical geography of the city. "The environmental burdens here are distributed unequally. Very often the levels of vacant and derelict land coincide with the worst health," she explains.

"For example, in the poorest areas, one fifth of babies are of low birth weight, and that correlates with vacant land.

"That is not to say that the vacant land is causing the bad health, but there is no doubt that contaminated land is not good to live near."

While it is common currency that those brought up in Bearsden have better life chances than those brought up in Drumchapel, for example, Professor Maantay's brief as a Fulbright Distinguished Chair is to carry out the first comprehensive mapping of the problem. She is seeking to map Glasgow's health inequalities in relationship to environmental burdens such as pollution and contamination.

The work will also identify possible interventions to improve matters. Her particular enthusiasm is for projects which seek to convert derelict land to community use for urban agriculture projects. "In New York, community gardens have become focuses for neighbourhoods," she explains. "As well as being hubs for all the generations they have become very productive." Growing food on land which may be contaminated might sound reckless, but using raised beds, for example, can get around that, she says.

Meanwhile empty land can provide other ecological services, she adds, including stormwater management, open space and natural areas and recreational space for surrounding communities. "Contaminated sites need to be cleaned up but they can have real potential."

As a former city planner in New York, she knows that housing tends to be prioritised.

"Giving local communities a say is anathema to some planners. But the way you get community to buy into something is if you allow them to have an input.

"People in these communities have lived with this terrible land for long enough. They should get some of the benefit too," she says.