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Holistic Perspective

venn diagram of community, environmental and economic secotrs converging to create health

Healthy Communities/Healthy Cities (HC) is an international movement that involves thousands of HC projects, initiatives and networks world-wide. HC takes a holistic view of communities, recognizing that “everything is connected to everything” and “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”. Healthy Communities initiatives are multi-sectoral collaborations that integrate social, economic and environmental goals to benefit the whole community and strengthen community capacity to promote and sustain health. 

Health is a broad concept, encompassing physical, mental and social wellbeing, quality of life and human development; it is as much about a process as it is a status, about becoming as much as being ill. The health of a community is not just about the health of the people, but about the healthfulness of their environmental, social and economic conditions and of the community, social and political processes that lead to the shaping of those conditions. A Healthy Community is therefore a complex adaptive system, constantly changing, flexing and evolving. (Canadian Institute of Planners: Healthy Communities Practice Guide. p.5).

While there has been some evolution of the tools and techniques used in healthy communities practice, these basic concepts are still relevant today. 

Guiding Principles

  • Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.
  • Social, environmental and economic factors are important determinants of human health and are inter-related.
  • People cannot achieve their fullest potential unless they are able to take control of those things which determine their well-being.
  • All sectors need to share their knowledge, expertise and perspectives and work together to create a healthy community

Healthy Communities Strategies

A Healthy Communities process is based on:

Characteristics of a Healthy Community

OHCC encourages communities to define their own vision of a healthy community. However, many Healthy Communities and Healthy Cities groups have identified the following characteristics of a healthy community or healthy city. 

  • Clean and safe physical environment
  • Peace, equity and social justice
  • Adequate access to food, water, shelter, income, safety, work and recreation for all
  • Adequate access to health care services
  • Opportunities for learning and skill development
  • Strong, mutually supportive relationships and networks
  • Workplaces that are supportive of individual and family well-being
  • Wide participation of residents in decision-making
  • Strong local cultural and spiritual heritage
  • Diverse and vital economy
  • Protection of the natural environment
  • Responsible use of resources to ensure long term sustainability


These principles have been adapted from the work of Trevor Hancock and Leonard Duhl, and similar material has appeared in several World Health Organization documents. They are discussed in more detail, with references to earlier documents, in a report Dr. Hancock prepared for the Senate Subcommittee on Population Health in March 2009, entitled Act Locally: Community-based population health promotion.