Speech – Working towards cities of all generations: a vision to become reality in Denmark, Europe and beyond

4 November 2012, Copenhagen, Denmark

Minister Hækkerup, distinguished leaders from Danish cities, dear colleagues,

It gives me great pleasure to be with you today at this national closing event of the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, and for the award ceremony of the Danish competition to identify the “City of All Generations”.  Dear colleagues, 2012 has been a very busy but also a very successful year for public health in Europe, as well as for advancing the political agenda for active and healthy ageing. I am especially pleased to look back to the cooperation with Denmark and the support from Danish authorities during this year.

I want to mention just two events in our work together during this year.

In April we celebrated World Health Day here in Copenhagen, hosted by the Danish Health and Medicines Authority. This year, we celebrated World Health Day under the motto “Active ageing: good health adds life to years”. Many of the countries with the longest life-spans are in our WHO European Region, and we can be proud of the pace at which life expectancy grows in many of our Member States. This is a tremendous achievement.

Equally important, at no time in history has progress been faster in our understanding of what makes the ageing process successful and of the social determinants of healthy ageing.

Actions on the local level have strongly contributed to the growing knowledge about what works to empower older people to add life to years, to stay healthy and active, and to lead independent lives.

At the end of October, we came together here in Copenhagen for another celebration: this time, the launch of the common European policy framework, Health 2020, that we developed in broad consultation with our Member States, experts and stakeholders, with the goal to create a living framework that will guide our work in the future.

Health 2020 responds not least to the demographic and epidemiological changes that we face in Europe and that were intensively discussed throughout the European Year.

Health 2020 identifies and details four priority action areas:

  • investing in health through a life-course approach and empowering people;
  • tackling the Region’s major health challenges of noncommunicable diseases and communicable diseases;
  • strengthening people-centred health systems, public health capacity and emergency preparedness, surveillance and response; and
  • creating resilient communities and supportive environments.

To tackle the specific challenges and opportunities of healthy ageing, we have further detailed these principles of Health 2020 in the form of a strategy and action plan for healthy ageing in Europe.

Many of the successful policies at the local level that support healthy ageing are prime examples of some of the core principles of Health 2020. Among these are: solidarity and equity, dignity and mutual respect. Local actions also are good illustrations of the need for intersectoral action, and ways to tackle social determinants of chronic diseases.

Resilient communities and supportive environments for all generations have long been a focus and flagship of our work with the WHO European Healthy Cities Network. It is through this work that we have gathered many success stories on how action on the local level can not only make a difference for older people but also foster intergenerational solidarity, not least by supporting voluntary engagement and participation of older people in steering policies towards an age-friendly environment.

As the title of this competitions rightly suggests, age-friendly environments also mean better environments for everyone, be it in the form of road safety and adequate public transport or barrier-free public spaces and good access to services.

Polices for age-friendly environments are also a specific commitment of the WHO Regional Office for Europe for cooperation under the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, an engagement to which we very much look forward. This work also offers good opportunities to continue our exchange with partners in Denmark, with the Danish National Board of Social Services and with interested cities in Denmark, such as the cities in this competition. It is important to build on the exchange and mutual learning, and the expert meeting through which the Regional Office contributed to this competition earlier this year.

As we are here together to celebrate the results of this competition, it is my great pleasure to see today how the list of good-practice examples for supportive environments continues to grow fast.

It is a special honour for me to hand over the second prize for the “City for all Generations” competition to the Municipality of Skanderborg.

The project presented by Skanderborg is an excellent example of what can be done to develop a city centre by including volunteers, old and young. The intergenerational project to decorate a wall in the city is a great example of bringing together local schools and activity centres for older people. This volunteerism was matched with financial support from the Municipality, creating further opportunities to start initiatives.

The project is based on the principles of voluntary work: most people prefer to participate in ad hoc work that matches their needs and interests. Volunteers are free to participate in exactly the events and initiatives that they find inspiring and interesting. All of these initiatives of the Municipality of Skanderborg will be further developed and will feature prominently in the “Week of Voluntary Action” in spring 2013.

My whole-hearted congratulations!