Welcome to my initial blog for City Health International. My intention over the coming months is to look at developments in research, politics and the media through the prism of urban health and what it may mean for the City Health community (so pretty much anyone reading this). While my background is in national and regional policy work around substance misuse, with a more recent interest in crime and anti-social behaviour issues, I will be looking at a much broader range of topics. Before we embark on that though I shall briefly explain how I got involved with the phenomenon that is City Health and how that helped extend my horizons beyond alcohol and drugs.

In many ways I blame the Olympics, as much, if not more, than Professor Gerry Stimson and Paddy Costall. If London hadn’t been the host City in 2012 I would not have been so enthusiastic about hosting the first City Health International (CHI) conference. While I enjoy welcoming people to London and showing off the medieval Guildhall. Over the previous years I had run at least 20 major events looking at differing aspects of drug and alcohol use. Anyone who has organised a major event will be aware of the amount of work and stress involved.

In general, the drug and alcohol field tend to gather in groups of like- minded individuals with similar interests and experiences. It can be comforting, but is rarely challenging, and often the time and resource involved seems poorly rewarded in terms of impact. But it is safe. Other sectors follow this pattern.

The concept for City Health was clearly something a bit different, a bit less safe, a little more risky. It also had a real appeal, presenting an opportunity to break down the rigid, yet comfortable, silos we tend to inhabit. The timing also felt right, with a tangible interest in learning from other cities. The time seemed ripe for fresh thinking and approaches that considered problems and responses in context, not isolation. Fortunately, my fears were not realised. We had two days of outstanding presentations with their quality being matched by the breadth of subjects covered and the global perspectives provided. Yet all held together by common threads of the role of urban centres in helping improve health for citizens, often with a focus on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Relief was matched by excitement, it all felt much more vibrant than the average conference, not just a one off or the annual gathering of a professional group, all affirming how right they were. It was quickly apparent that City Health was going to have to carry on. There was an appetite for this type of event, that could provide a focus for a variety of backgrounds, disciplines and experiences to come together to present, discuss and most certainly, on occasion, to argue.

Six conferences on and with the next event being held in Odessa (13-14 September) there remains a huge reservoir of energy and learning to tap into and share. It would be wonderful if you were able to participate in City Health 2018 (all those who attend are participants – City Health doesn’t do passive attendance!) but I would also invite you to contribute to this blog. City Health International is not a series of one off events but a year-round global community of interested individuals united behind a common interest to improve health. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and observations in the coming weeks and months.

David MacKintosh