Healthy Cities: A Political Movement Which Empowered Local Governments to Put Health and Equity High on Their Agenda
The healthy cities movement was launched at the peak of the new public health movement in the eighties. It was very attractive to local political leaders, it inspired a wide range of new actors and it spread very quickly. It became a thriving global movement that caught the imagination of thousands of city leaders and professionals concerned with urban health and sustainable development. It is undoubtedly one of the longest running and most successful initiatives ever introduced by WHO. Healthy Cities as a project, embodied a number of key features that proved crucial in its success including a strong emphasis on values, political commitment, partnership-based approaches, democratic governance, strategic thinking and networking. It combined the discipline of a well-defined project involving committed cities with mechanisms of inclusiveness and engagement of all interested cities. Healthy Cities in Europe thrived at the cutting edge of public health, continuously broadening and adapting its agenda to new knowledge, global and regional developments and emerging local needs. It has changed the way cities understand and deal with health. Healthy Cities represents a unique example of a long-term sustainable WHO initiative that forged strategic links with local governments. The evidence and experience accumulated in the past 27 years have demonstrated repeatedly that Healthy Cities works and it makes a difference. This chapter outlines some of the critical factors and preconditions that are required for developing successful Healthy Cities programmes. Healthy Cities is now more relevant than ever. Most global public health, social and environmental challenges as well as the implementation of the new sustainable development goals for the planet require local action and strong local leadership. The time is right for WHO across Regions and governments at all levels to use the potential of Healthy Cities to the full and strengthen its capacity and presence locally, nationally and internationally.
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