International Healthy Cities Conference discusses visions and solutions for urban living

Two thirds of the population of the European Region live in urban areas, characterized by heavy traffic, pollution, noise, violence and social isolation. People in towns and cities experience increased rates of noncommunicable disease, injuries and alcohol and substance abuse, with the poor typically exposed to the worst environments. The WHO Healthy Cities movement aims to tackle these challenges.

The International Healthy Cities Conference took place in Athens from 22-25 October. It marked 25 years of the European and global Healthy Cities movement offering the opportunity to take stock of the collective achievements of Healthy Cities and to shape their visions for the future of the initiative. It also launched a political declaration setting the strategic goals for phase VI, which will run up to 2018.

A Task Force on Healthy Ageing operates within the European Healthy Cities Network and meets twice per year. The collaboration of cities in this framework is complementary to the WHO Age-Friendly Cities that puts a spotlight on older people. The Conference included a number of specific sessions on ageing affirming the need for cities to work both on general population health and specific challenges related to demographic change.

In one of those sessions ways to measure the age-friendliness of communities were discussed. The WHO Kobe centre is finalising a guide on age-friendly cities indicators and will launch a pilot study involving local communities aiming 1) to collect seminal data on the core indicators, globally; and 2) to gather inputs for improving the guide from a user’s perspective.

The AFE-Innovnet project was presented both during the working meeting of the Task Force on Healthy Ageing and during a plenary discussion at the Conference, where Rodd Bond, AGE expert, discussed the ongoing age-friendly initiatives in Europe and the case for an age-friendly economic development.

The Conference highlighted that leadership and user involvement are key to creating conditions that can truly promote healthy living and high quality of life in cities. It demonstrated how value-informed policy-making can enhance health equity in all local policies and protect vulnerable groups. In times of austerity, such approaches are vital for the survival and prosperity of urban communities.

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