Prosperous Cities Are Healthy Cities

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YEF Institute’s new grant spurs deeper city engagement in addressing key issues regarding health improvement and economic advancement.

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“When you look at maps of neighboring communities and zip codes and see significant disparities in life expectancy within a couple of miles – sometimes blocks – you’re compelled to advance policies to address those gaps in a meaningful way,” said Mayor David Baker of Kenmore, Washington.

With generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the National League of Cities (NLC) through its Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) is leading a national effort to build the capacity of city leaders to improve the quality of life where individuals live, learn, work and play.

“This is an opportunity to harness the leadership and political will of mayors and city leaders to improve the quality of life for all residents through cross-agency, cross-sector approaches to city policies, practices and programs,” said Clarence E. Anthony, NLC CEO and executive director.

RWJF’s vision is to advance a Culture of Health (CoH) in every community across the United States by creating a movement where health is a shared value and is an important factor in key policy decisions. In this model, a Culture of Health includes not only high quality health care, but also ensuring all residents have access to high quality early childhood programs, good schools, good jobs, affordable housing, safe and active transportation options, places to play and healthy foods. Rooted in this vison is the opportunity to work in cross-cutting ways using data to target and tailor high impact strategies and policies so that all resources are directed to improving health. Tools and guidance such as those available through the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration between RWJF and the University of Wisconsin, can support community leaders who want to make this vision of communities where all families can thrive a reality.

Mayors and city leaders play a pivotal role in the overall health and well-being of the cities and towns they serve. Over the course of the next three years, NLC will partner with mayors and city leaders to advance cross-cutting approaches to promote a culture of health in America’s cities and towns through four major strategies, including;

  • Creating outcomes-based policies and practices through a series of Mayor’s Institutes to make sure health is considered and woven into their work across a wide array of key policy areas;
  • Collaborating and sharing knowledge, ideas and models with peers through an ongoing communications effort that includes web forums, blogs and workshops, among other efforts;
  • Using the latest data, sustainability strategies and equity frameworks to guide informed approaches that leverage all available assets and stakeholders; and
  • Leveraging and building upon the success of initiatives like Let’s Move Cities, Towns & Counties and the long-standing efforts within NLC to ensure integrated approaches to make healthy choices easy choices.

“City leaders have a critical role to promote a Culture of Health in our communities, and we must make smart planning decisions that ensure access to safe places to walk and play. This is important because healthier kids are better able to learn, which empowers them to ultimately reach their full potential,” said NLC President Melodee Colbert-Kean, councilmember, Joplin, Missouri.

Many cities are leading the way, and each year RWJF recognizes top performing communities through their CoH Prize. The CoH Prize recognizes the impact of communities that have placed a priority on health and who are creating powerful partnerships and deep commitments that enable everyone, especially those facing the greatest challenges, the opportunity to live well. NLC member cities,  including Kansas City, Missouri; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Everett, Massachusetts; Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Orleans, Louisiana; Williamson, West Virginia; and Durham, North Carolina, have won the prize in previous years and continue to advance their healthy community efforts.  These cities have instituted a range of approaches to building a Culture of Health, including expanding access to early childcare, after school and summer learning programs; building partnerships between hospitals and jails to better address the health needs of repeat offenders and visitors; encouraging green jobs creation; creating safe environments and communities; and developing affordable housing.  Dr. Rose Gowen, Brownville, Texas, City Commissioner, speaks to her city’s efforts saying, “People in Brownsville want better… a better economy, education and health. We’re interested in building a community where healthy is the norm – not the anomaly.”  CoH winners are featured in short videos that highlight their successes.

For more information, check out the YEF Institute’s overview of the RWJF COH grant, or see how healthy your county is and how you can make it healthier by visiting County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.

This is the first blog post in our new Culture of Health series. Look for the next post in November. If you are interested in learning more, consider joining us at CitySummit for an in-depth training on the Culture of Health; scholarships are available for a limited time. Click here to view and and complete a scholarship application.

About the Authors:

julieJulie Willems Van Dijk is the Director of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.


3cec31aSue Pechilio Polis is the Director of Health & Wellness in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.