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Inspiring initiatives shared at the EPSA Knowledge-Transfer Conference on Urban Development for Healthier Cities

More than 200 participants from 17 different countries shared lessons learnt and exchanged experience at the international EPSA Knowledge-Transfer Conference on Urban Development for Healthier Cities: A Cross-cutting Approach to Innovative Local Governance in Barcelona on 13 and 14 June. This conference was jointly organised by the Provincial Council of Barcelona, winner of the EPSA 2015 Cross-cutting Award, and the European Institute of Public Administration – EIPA Barcelona and was hosted by the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, a former hospital and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This conference was dedicated to sharing successful solutions and approaches in relation to the creation of healthy cities through inter-departmental and cross-sectoral approaches at local level. As the wellbeing of citizens depends to a high degree on how cities are managed and on how governments tackle the complex challenges of social exclusion, mobility problems and environmental and health threats, innovative leadership and cross-cutting policies that improve the wellbeing of citizens are more relevant than ever. The high number of participants from the public, academic and private sector clearly demonstrated the interest in and importance of the topic and the fact that cities and towns have an increasingly active role in the protection and improvement of citizens’ health.

In fact, the President of the Provincial Council of Barcelona, Mercè Conesa, stated at the joint opening with the Director-General of EIPA, Prof. Dr Marga Pröhl that “health services are crucial, but only influence citizen’s health by 20%; while our health depends to 80% on the environment in which we live. For this reason, the Provincial Council of Barcelona aims at incorporating the health aspect into all our policies.” This fact was also recognised by EIPA’s Director-General who added that “since many factors such as socio-economic aspects, education, culture or the physical features of cities and towns lie outside the health sector, it is important to create synergies between the different sectors of political action, as done by the “Urban Environment and Health” initiative of the Provincial Council of Barcelona.”

This official opening was followed by a keynote address by Marcus Grant, Expert Advisor to the WHO European Healthy Cities Network and for the Design Council Cabe. “Cities have to be designed having the health and wellbeing of their citizens in mind. It is not possible to have healthy citizens in unhealthy cities,” Mr Grant pointed out. After this insightful and engaging contribution, the winner project “Urban Environment and Health” of the Provincial Council of Barcelona was presented to the audience. This project is innovative as it truly breaks down institutional silos, creates synergies between different fields of political action and across 13 different departments. Thus, it demonstrates active communication between departments and government layers beyond legislative obligations. Health is integrated into others policies not only by regulation, but mainly by “leading by example”.

Throughout the two days of the conference, best practices and innovative approaches from seven EPSA champions as well as from other administrations across Europe were debated in various panels, which tackled aspects of combining health and urban environments such as leadership approaches (e.g. Turin, Udine, Hamburg and Utrecht), sustainable and green cities (e.g. Mollet del Vallès, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Essen and Ljubljana), active mobility (e.g. Modena and Tallinn), fighting housing vulnerability and energy poverty (e.g. Ghent, Liverpool and Sant Cugat) and the built space (e.g. Vienna and Rennes).

In the final keynote address, Isabela Velazquez, urban architect at Gea21, highlighted that a culture of cross-sectoral collaboration and holistic approaches including measurement are paramount for new urban planning. In that sense she called for a more social, a more sustainable and healthier concept of urban planning with common objectives.

In his concluding remarks, the rapporteur of the conference, Harrie Scholtens, pointed out one of the crucial messages that urban planning has to be people-centred and that transversal ways of working have to be sought, even if they are not always the easiest solution. He emphasised that pro-active attitudes were important and that change processes, after all, require political support and a lot of patience.

Presentations and photos of the conference will be available at the EPSA 2015 website (

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