Mayors Nationwide Are Focused on Improving the Health and Vitality of Cities

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“The cost to business, the healthcare industry, and our communities makes fitness not only a personal and humanitarian issue, but also an economic imperative.”

Thirty-two percent of mayors discussed the need to invest in bicycle-friendly infrastructure including bike share programs, sidewalks, walking paths. (Getty Images)
Thirty-two percent of mayors discussed the need to invest in bicycle-friendly infrastructure including bike share programs, sidewalks, walking paths. (Getty Images)

The National League of Cities’ State of the Cities 2016 Report found that mayors across the country from cities of all sizes are taking action to ensure that residents have the resources they need to live a healthy life where they live, learn, work and play. These mayors recognize the connection between the health of their residents and the economic prosperity and vitality of their cities. As such, they are using their respective State of the City addresses to outline a vision for healthier communities.

In his 2016 State of the City address, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell announced that the Harlingen City Commission in Texas recently passed a resolution to create a multi-sector advisory board that includes hospitals, educational institutions and businesses to steer the city into a healthier future. “The cost to business, the healthcare industry, and our communities makes fitness not only a personal and humanitarian issue, but also an economic imperative,” Mayor Boswell said.

Mayor Jim Darling of McAllen, Texas, riding a bike before delivering his 2015 State of the City address. (photo: City of McAllen)
Mayor Jim Darling of McAllen, Texas, riding a bike before delivering his 2015 State of the City address. (photo: City of McAllen)

Numerous studies have shown the links between chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity and the availability of health promoting resources within communities, such as quality schools, employment opportunities, full-service grocery stores and safe spaces for physical activity. Mayors recognize this, and are actively connecting critical city programs, policies and practices to improve the quality of life in the communities they serve.

“From building health facilities in income-challenged neighborhoods, to increasing health education in the schools, to building sidewalks and bike trails and senior wellness centers. We are changing the culture of health in this community,” said Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City.

Mayors are also changing the way they think about traditional city issues such as infrastructure and public safety. Infrastructure has consistently ranked among the top five issues addressed by mayors in State of the City speeches since 2014. This year, mayors emphasized infrastructure as a key tool to improve public health. Thirty-two percent of mayors discussed the need to invest in bicycle-friendly infrastructure including bike share programs, sidewalks, walking paths.  Safe and active transportation options were also highlighted by mayors as key infrastructure investments with each topic mentioned in 15 percent or more of speeches.

Biking was the second-most talked about infrastructure topic during this year's mayoral State of the City addresses.
Bikes were the second-most talked about infrastructure topic during this year’s mayoral State of the City addresses.

In Fayetteville, Arkansas, Mayor Lioneld Jordan spoke about his city’s active transportation plan. “Fayetteville is committed to developing an inclusive multi-modal transportation system to create a ‘livable transportation network’ of bicycle and sidewalk infrastructure. We believe that by combining pedestrian and bicycle planning into active transportation planning will yield the maximum return on the public’s investment and lead to a more healthy and vibrant community.”

Other cities like New York and Seattle outlined plans for achieving Vision Zero, a commitment to improve pedestrian and bicycle transportation safety and ultimately to eliminate traffic fatalities.

It is encouraging to see that mayors are increasingly, in the words of Petersburg, Virginia, Mayor W. Howard Myers, “making health and wellness a priority in the city.”

To further these efforts, NLC is committed to building the capacity of city leaders to promote a culture of health. Over the next three years, with generous funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will work to engage mayors and city leaders in problem-solving sessions, trainings and peer-learning networks to ensure health is a key factor in their decisions across a range of issues, including education, housing and community development. More information on the YEF Institute’s efforts can be found here.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about education.

About the Author: Alyia Gaskins is a Senior Associate for Health and Community Wellness at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Alyia on Twitter at @a_gaskins412.