Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

PRESENTATION | Health, Urbanism & Creativity

This week Linda was invited by Dr Evelyne de Leeuw (Glocal Health Solutions; Deakin University) to be a guest speaker and facilitator at the World Health Organisation’s Healthy Cities Leadership Course held in Brisbane. The Course addressed the Healthy Cities Asia Pacific Regional Framework for Healthy Urbanisation, recognising that cities in the region face a range of challenging urban issues. Linda’s contribution was to encourage ‘thinking outside the box’, recognising WHO’s priorities of encouraging cross-sectoral partnerships, evidence based decision making and community participation. WHO’s Healthy Cities approach values the importance of health and wellbeing in the decision making and activities of cities. It acts as a framework for strategic planning, activities and assessment of a city.

One of the strategies for addressing healthy urbanisation is ‘urbanism’. Urbanist Jeb Brugmann addresses urbanism and urban strategy as vital for addressing the social, economic and environmental challenges facing cities during the current period of urbanisation:

Many of the world’s problems now arise from the poor design, weak governance, and mismanagement of cities … Urbanism is a way of designing, building, using, and living in the city in reinforcing ways to make its economics, politics, social life, and ecology coherent with consensus aspirations and values. Urbanism results from effective urban strategy: the alignment of erstwhile individualistic and competing interests behind a common approach to building and sustaining [urban] advantage.

The participants, including representatives from Cambodia, Lao, Mongolia, China, Hong Kong and Macau, were led by Dr Leeuw in implementing the Healthy Cities approach. This included mapping stakeholder networks and addressing health and wellbeing broadly. In supporting Dr de Leeuw’s approach, Linda presented a number of case studies of projects from around the world, with particular emphasis on excluded, poor and disadvantaged communities or localities, that drew connections between community, culture, place and health/wellbeing. While many of them were not specifically directed at improving health, they did broadly address the values and principles of Healthy Cities: equity, participation and empowerment, partnership, solidarity and friendship and sustainable development.

Dr de Leeuw said, “there is a need to do more than repair ill health.” The opportunity here is to use Healthy Cities as a framework for an integrated approach to planning and designing cities for economic, social, environmental sustainability. Dr de Leeuw stressed that Healthy Cities planning and management is systems-based, adaptive and appropriately comprehensive.

“Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.” Robert E. Franken

In cities and towns facing complex and wicked problems, creativity is a vital ingredient. Not just creative problem solving, but also engaging arts and cultural partners for urban and social innovation in recognition of the role of culture and the arts in human wellbeing. Governments, NGOs and communities have access to a broad range of capabilities, assets and tools to make change in their cities. On matters of health, where we become hardened to health messages, there is a need to create change through diverse and informed actions. For Dr de Leeuw, it is important to make healthy choices and decisions easy choices and decisions. Our living and working environments are foundational determinants of our health and attention needs to be paid to ensuring planning and design practices are a help rather than a hindrance. Similarly, our social environments – with strong social capital and a sense of community – is proven to have a positive impact on health. As part of the workshop, WHO also delivered workshops on action planning, strategies for making cities smoke free and the Urban Heart Tool (Urban Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool).

Linda’s presentation included a range of responses to health and wellbeing in urban environments at all scales, including:

  • Planning: Urban responses and renewal at the scale of city and district planning, infrastructure and design
  • Place: Placemaking responses at the scale of locality and neighbourhood
  • Programming: Networked and placed-based community responses including community development, community asset and capacity building, and cultural and arts engagement.

In noting UN-HABITAT’s resolutions on Right to the City and Placemaking, as well as UN-HABITAT’s 2010/2011 Report on the State of Asian Cities, and in recognising the social determinants of health, Linda presented the following case studies:

Ciclovia, Bogata, Columbia
Every Sunday and holidays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Bogota, Colombia closes off more than 70 miles of city streets. Closed, that is, to cars and open to bicyclists, skaters, walkers, and mass aerobics. When that happens, 1.5 million people come out to enjoy the safety, community, and exercise that a seemingly car-free city allows. According to many participants, the Ciclovia has transformed life in the city all around for the better. People feel happier, healthier, and more united. Similar initiatives have been developed worldwide.
Video online at:

Green the Ghetto, New York, USA
Sustainable South Bronx, founded by Majora Carter, advocates for public health and environmental equality through green-collar job training and placement. SSBX pursues economically sustainable projects informed by community needs. Greening the Ghetto results in better community spaces including community gardens and public realm in low income communities.
Majora Carter’s TED Talk:

Skateistan, Kabul, Afghanistan
Skateistan began as a Kabul-based Afghan NGO and is now an International non-profit charity providing skateboarding and educational programming in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan. Skateistan is non-political, independent, and inclusive of all ethnicities, religions and social backgrounds. Skateboarding is ‘the hook’ for engaging with hard-to-reach young people (ages 5-18). Skateistan’s development aid programs work with growing numbers of marginalized youth through skateboarding, and provide them with new opportunities in cross-cultural interaction, education, and personal empowerment programs. Skateistan activities include skateboard aid projects and skateparks for Cambodian youth, a grassroots street-level program in Pakistan, and a state-of-the-art learning/skateboarding centre in Mazar-e-Sharif, Northern Afghanistan.
YouTube Channel:

Hula Helps, Redcliffe, Australia
500 Hours, instigated by local social and cultural entrepreneurs Samantha Jockel and Lisa Burnett, was a concerted effort to address declining community connectedness in an area on the outskirts of Brisbane. By volunteering one day per week for a year, the duo initiated community and cultural development initiatives including the crowdfunded Hula Helps program in partnership with a local school. Hula Helps aimed to develop confidence and active lifestyles among young girls through hula hooping. The idea for Hula Helps came out of a conversation with the school chaplain. He identified some of the issues he was seeing with the senior girls but also, that as a male, he didn’t feel like he was the right person to address them. This project was crowdfunded.

Labour Sans Frontieres, Thailand
‘Labour Sans Frontieres’ is an art project that represents the stories, thoughts, and dreams of migrant labour in the border towns of Thailand. Comprised of handmade works by migrants who made papier mache dolls to represent themselves, in the places and cities they hope to reach. Each doll has a ‘passport’ written by its creator detailing where she has been and where she would like to go. The project was part of an art training program at EMPOWER center in Maesai, when three women artists from Bangkok started an art workshop for women. Empower Foundation of Thailand has creatively used art and media to promote the rights of sex workers for over 20 years. Empower has collaborated with artists to bring their messages to people in Thailand. These have been primarily for audiences in Thailand, including brothel workers, health care workers and policy makers. On March 8,2004 EMPOWER Foundation launched ‘Labour Sans Frontieres‘. Over one hundred papier mache dolls, representing immigrant labour, were brought to Bangkok for its first public installation. After the first public display at democracy monument, more than 250 dolls were installed at XV international AIDS Conference in Bangkok, July 2004.

Favela Painting, Rio De Janiero, Brazil
In 2006, the Dutch artist duo Haas&Hahn started developing the idea of creating community-driven art interventions in Brazil. Their efforts yielded two murals which were painted in Vila Cruzeiro in collaboration with local youth. The artworks received worldwide coverage and have become points of pride in the community and throughout Rio. More recently, they have painted Santa Marta. Favela painting in Santa Marta and Vila Cruzeiro involved members of the local community, who received training and payment for their involvement.
Video online at:

Mention was also made about digital storytelling, design and planning guidelines, cultural heritage, health impact assessments, community asset mapping and building, community arts, community gardens and public art. There is a significant body of literature recognising the value of integrated arts and health approaches. The purpose of the presentation was to build capacity among participants by sparking some creative thinking, acknowledge cultural identity and creative expression as integral for health and wellbeing, and trigger awareness of creative approaches to health and wellbeing – perhaps even creative approaches to implementing the Healthy Cities framework itself.


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