Annual meeting of the WHO European Healthy Cities Network, Bursa, Turkey

21–23 September 2005

Designing healthier and safer cities: the challenge of healthy urban planning

Mayors and other high-level public health leaders from more than 50 members of the WHO European Healthy Cities Network, representing over 40 million people, and coordinators of European national Healthy Cities networks representing another 1400 cities, gathered in Bursa, Turkey to agree on action cities can take to better protect their citizens from disasters and create healthier and safer living conditions.

“Disasters like New Orleans show us that even in the most developed countries, cities and their residents are particularly vulnerable to system breakdowns,” said Agis D. Tsouros, Regional Adviser for Healthy Cities and Urban Governance at WHO/Europe. “All too often the critical importance of the need for rigorous health impact assessment of policies and funding decisions is revealed only after disaster strikes, and then the human and economic costs can be astronomical. That is why the WHO European Healthy Cities Network promotes and supports urban health leadership and responsibility. Local governments are the political level in closest contact with citizens and their problems. The Healthy Cities approach of looking at potential health benefits and threats of policy decisions early in the urban planning cycle has been shown to make a big difference in people’s health and well-being.”

With more than 17 years’ experience in Europe and worldwide, the Healthy Cities project has become a global force for change. A wide variety of innovative and comprehensive interventions across Europe addresses some of the most serious and persistent problems in Europe’s cities today. These include safety, traffic accidents, tobacco and drug use, obesity and sedentary lifestyles, teenage pregnancy, access to services, support for all citizens and protection of the poor and vulnerable groups such as children, older people and immigrants. The meeting in Bursa also explored structural and behavioural ways in which cities can encourage and promote physical activity and active living.

“Healthy cities recognize the need for putting people’s health first,” states Hikmet Sahin, Mayor of Bursa. “The municipality of Bursa is proud to have been selected to host this timely and important international meeting. We are pleased to be able to show colleagues from across Europe and beyond how we have gone about making our city a healthier and safer place to live and work. Most importantly, we are happy to have the chance to learn and share experiences in working towards our common goal of health for all.”

Bursa and the other 54 designated WHO European Network cities represented at the meeting were selected based on their securing the support and active commitment of the city political leadership and senior officials. Cities also demonstrate commitment to developing management approaches and structures to promote urban health in sustainable ways that reduce inequality in health, focus on the determinants of health, involve and listen to the citizens and are based on the cooperation of all key sectors.

WHO European Network cities operate within different policy, legal and administrative frameworks. This means that cities have to develop, invent and experiment with a variety of mechanisms and action approaches. City experiences and lessons learned from the work of the Network are documented, evaluated and disseminated to benefit cities worldwide. “Healthy Cities has given us a clear vision and a very useful framework for developing partnerships for health across all sectors of our city,” said Nalan Fidan, Coordinator of the Bursa Healthy Cities Project.

Participants shared experiences in dealing with four key areas: healthy urban planning; the role of local governments in developing environments that support physical activity and active living; health impact assessment; and healthy ageing.

City delegations at the Bursa meeting uniquely included urban planners, who reported on their practical experience with balancing economics with health, and integrating health considerations into urban planning processes and projects. Cities reported on ways of:

  • generating a shift from the traditional approach of delivering services to a passive population to an approach recognizing the rights of older people to health-enhancing, independent living conditions and access to services and support, irrespective of economic or social circumstances;
  • moving away from the stereotypes of the “burden of older people” to a focus on the capacity and continuing contribution of older people; and
  • using a life-course approach, recognizing the impact of earlier life experiences on the way in which people age.