News from the WHO European Healthy Cities Network meeting in St Petersburg

Issue date: 18 June 2012

The annual conference and business meeting of the WHO European Healthy Cities Network was held this June in St Petersburg in the Russian Federation. Hugh Barton, Marcus Grant, Laurence Carmichael and Caroline Bird attended to provide expert support on the theme of Healthy Urban Environments. Attendance at the event is by invitation and consists of national network co-ordinators, city health co-ordinators and politicians from 80 cities across the continent, plus a number of city planners, architects and other professionals whose work relates to the wider determinants of health and invited experts from across Europe – around 400 people in all.

The WHO Collaborating Centre team was busy throughout, running a very successful series of workshops, teach-ins, round table discussions and city case studies presentations, all helping to further reinforce healthy planning and design in the network cities. As well as the formal business of the meeting which spanned 3 days, the host city held social events with local dance and music displays and participants enjoyed seeing the city of St Petersburg during the 'White Nights' when, being so far north, night never quite falls. The participants all came away with a reinforced sense of the value and inspiration of the Healthy Cities project and the whole event was very successful.

It was noticeable, right across the event, just how much the planning and design of the built environment is now seen as absolutely central to health. There is an intuitive understanding of the role of the built environment where previously there had often been a degree of ignorance and even suspicion. It now seems that the work of the Centre over the last decade has been validated!

Not all cites have yet taken action - St. Petersburg, a beautiful and beautifully planned city, is dominated by traffic (and smoky bars) so there is still work to do and the conference is also about helping cities learn from each other and take away examples of good practice to use in their own municipalities.

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