Scope and Purpose

International Healthy Cities Conference


“Changing cities to change the world”

Celebrating thirty years of the Healthy Cities movement


The future lies with cities. Socially, culturally, environmentally and politically, cities are becoming more important than ever before. Cities are centres of political, cultural and economic opportunities, and are often at the forefront of innovation to improve the health and well-being of all those who live in and interact with urban places.


The WHO European Healthy Cities Network was launched in 1988 as a political, cross-cutting and intersectoral initiative and movement in direct collaboration with cities across the WHO European Region. It is a crucial platform for bringing about change and achieving improved health, well-being, and equitable and sustainable development in cities across the Region and globally. 


The Network’s strong and active leadership has shown that many health, well-being and sustainable development challenges are most effectively addressed at the local level. It offers multiple examples of innovative ways to do so.   


The 2018 International Healthy Cities Conference marks thirty years of the Network and the global Healthy Cities movement. The Conference, which takes place every five years, presents the opportunity to learn from the work of healthy cities globally. It attracts politicians and key decision-makers from within cities, as well as technical experts.


Thousands of cities worldwide are part of the Healthy Cities movement, and their diversity is one of the movement’s greatest strengths. The Conference offers the chance for cities to engage with their counterparts from all over the world, and to benefit from the experience that the Network has to offer.


The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. Its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set ambitious targets for advancing sustainable development – which includes health, well-being and equity – by 2030. Cities play a central role in achieving the SDGs at the local level. Closest to the people, they create platforms for successful collaborative action on the social, cultural, political, economic, commercial and environmental determinants of health and well-being. Their understanding of the fundamental role of health and well-being in sustainable development is essential.


The Network’s focus on leadership, innovation, empowerment, participation and intersectoral action has created opportunities to improve the health and well-being of people over the past thirty years. Its multi-stakeholder engagement and political leadership continue to inspire others and make a difference in people’s lives. The Network’s member cities have adapted and reinvented themselves within changing environments, and have used innovation to engage the most vulnerable, test solutions to reduce inequalities, and create more inclusive, sustainable and healthy urban communities. 


The importance of this work continues to grow. Global health threats, climate change, more frequent and intense natural disasters, conflicts, extremism and related humanitarian crises and displacement of people threaten to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades. Natural resource depletion, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity add to and exacerbate the list of challenges that humanity faces.

Improved health and well-being and sustainable development cannot be realized without peace and security, and peace and security are at risk without sustainable development. Cities are key players in ensuring this peace.

In this context, the Conference will focus on the six themes of the new political vision for the WHO European Healthy Cities Network, drafted by the Network’s Political Vision Group: people, place, participation, prosperity, planet, and peace.

The Political Vision Group, made up of mayors, was appointed by WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab in September 2016. The six themes are People; Place; Participation; Prosperity; Planet; Peace.

The vision has been widely consulted on with mayors and experts throughout its development, and is fully aligned with the United Nations New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda.