And the first place goes to…: A qualitative study on the impact of the Healthy City Index on theplanning of healthy cities
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There is a remarkable growth in the appearance of city rankings and indexes. City rankings and indexes are frequently used to evaluate cities’ performance in achieving sustainability and health. However, there is a dominant concern in urban studies that the impact of city rankings and indexes is under-examined. Consequently, this study explores the impact of city rankings and indexes on the planning of healthy cities. The main research question guiding this study is: “How do city rankings and indexes impact the planning of healthy cities?”. To answer the research question, qualitative research methods were used. Specifically, a case study approach involving semi-structured interviews. The case used was the Healthy City Index developed by the consulting and engineering firm Arcadis. In total, 24 experts were interviewed. The experts included experts employed in municipalities included in the Healthy City Index, an expert from Arcadis, the initiator of the index, and one expert with profound knowledge on the topic of healthy cities. The study concludes that a city ranking or index, specifically the Healthy City Index, has limited impact on the planning of healthy cities. The limited impact is derived from various findings. Firstly, the Healthy City Index has limited usefulness in addressing the main challenges of planning healthy cities. Secondly, the increased awareness of the topic, due to the Healthy City Index, is short-lived and diminishes over time. Thirdly, municipalities do not actively focus on increasing performance on the Healthy City Index to plan a healthy city. Fourthly, considering the limitations, the suitableness of using the Healthy City Index for the planning of healthy cities by municipalities is limited. Lastly, the Healthy City Index is not actively used as a strategic steering tool, limiting its impact. The main impact of the Healthy City Index currently lies in highlighting the topic’s urgency, providing evidence for reaffirming existing problems and formulating tasks, and stimulating inter-municipality learning and collaboration. However, this impact is significantly based on speculations and influenced by circumstantial factors within municipalities. Consequently, in its current state, the Healthy City Index is more a marketing tool for Arcadis than it has profound impact on the planning of healthy cities by municipalities. The main research limitations of this research are the case-specificness, the broad selection criteria for municipal experts, the lack of general municipal perspectives on city rankings and indexes, the broad research scope, and the time constraints during the expert interviews. Consequently, this study opens up various opportunities for future research.
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