(First published in blue wings magazine,Sanoma Magazines, Finland)
In his 2007 book ‘Affluenza’, British Psychologist and Author Oliver James claims that our contagious, socially transmitted condition of debt and anxiety results from our efforts to “keep up with the Joneses”. As a result, many people in modern-day society fail to understand what promotes well being.
Even the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle discussed well being,although it was viewed rather negatively, as they associated it with hedonism and egoism. Well being has since come to be understood by doctors, psychologists and alternative healers as what is ultimately good for an individual or group of people.
Yet what about the well being and health of an entire city?
Living in a city is a reality for more than half the world’s population – with that figure set to rise to 70 per cent by 2050 according to the World Health Organisation.
In the last few decades, those living in cities particularly have experienced a decline in their health and well being, especially in the European Union. According to the World Health Organisation, 27% of the adult population (aged 18–65) have experienced at least one of a series of mental disorders in the past year. Similarly, the indirect effects of air pollution increasingly cause breathing difficulties, trigger asthma symptoms and lung and heart diseases and is associated with about 21 000 premature deaths per year in the EU Region.
One response to these problems has been the creation of the WHO Healthy Cities project. It developed out of European policy initiatives in the 1970s and 1980s which changed how people came to think about and understand health more broadly, and coincided with the historic political and social upheavals in Eastern and Western Europe.
A healthy city is defined by a process, not an outcome.Thus any city can be a healthy city, regardless of its current health status.
Dr Agis Tsouros, Head of the Centre for Urban Health WHO in Europe, says“At its heart, the Healthy Cities movement is about creating the urban conditions that will allow all a city’s residents to live long and healthy lives and achieve their maximum potential’’.
One successful initiative supported by the WHO Healthy Cities Project in London was the introduction of a congestion charge in 2003 to enter the city centre. As the world’s first major city to introduce such a charge, bicycle journeys have increased by 20% with a 7% reduction in crashes.