On any given day, city leaders confront a challenging array of issues. From the lack of affordable, stable housing for city residents to the need for reliable transportation and greater access to good-paying, high-quality jobs, mayors and city councilmembers have no shortage of pressing items on their list of priorities.
These to-do lists reflect in many ways why so many city leaders decide to run for office: to improve the lives and prospects of their residents. For decades, municipal officials have long worked to improve access to family-sustaining jobs, high-performing schools, early childhood programs and alternatives to jail to ensure youth, children and families can have productive and healthy lives. In each of these areas and many others, their efforts and innovations are driving local progress.
But the underlying challenges also continue to result in wide disparities within cities. For example, city residents who live just a few miles, and sometimes even a few blocks, apart have life expectancies that vary by as much as 10 to 20 years. The factors that determine how long we live and how well we live — including the quality of schools, jobs, housing, and transportation — generate these disparities, and they are more connected and interrelated than ever.
So, how can city leaders change these patterns and improve outcomes for more disadvantaged groups?
Today, we are excited to announce the launch of a new NLC initiative, Cities of Opportunity: Healthy People, Thriving Communities, as part of our search for answers. The pilot phase of this new effort will advance cross-cutting and collaborative approaches to three critical challenges: economic opportunity, healthy and affordable housing, and city planning and design.
NLC has chosen 12 cities from across the country to participate in this pilot phase:
- Birmingham, Alabama
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- East Point, Georgia
- Fort Collins, Colorado
- Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Hopewell, Virginia
- Huntington, West Virginia
- Lansing, Michigan
- New Orleans
- Rancho Cucamonga, California
- Roanoke, Virginia
“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to strengthen and expand the work we’ve done in East Point to mitigate and solve disparities in our city that affect our residents’ well-being and quality of life,” said East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham, who also serves as co-chair for the NLC Council on Youth, Education, and Families. “We will build upon our work to include youth ambassadors, safe routes to schools and expanding healthy low-cost produce in neighborhoods with food access challenges. This pilot will help us to better coordinate equitable solutions to address root causes — such as equitable economic development, housing and city planning — that affect our residents’ capacity to live productive, healthy lives.”
Through Cities of Opportunity, NLC seeks to harness the power of city leadership and address the root causes of poor health outcomes and health disparities. With the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the pilot initiative will enable city leaders to develop and implement robust, integrated action plans for their communities.
Informed by peer learning and engagement with national experts, participating cities will help NLC co-create a new national initiative that advances the ability of cities to work across programs and agencies and craft more comprehensive strategies that improve the health and well-being of their residents.
“In Lansing we believe this pilot opportunity will help us take a sustainable, holistic, multisector, equitable approach that ensures measurable and recognizable positive impacts for the residents in all of the city’s communities,” said Lansing Mayor Andy Schor. “By keeping equity and equitable policy solutions central to this project, we believe we will make meaningful progress for the most distressed, vulnerable and struggling families in all our neighborhoods.”
The pilot cities will convene this October in Atlanta to advance their work together. The scope of the project will expand in the future based on what we learn as we scale up the initiative. Our goal is to help local leaders build cities where all residents can reach their potential and live productive, fulfilling and healthy lives in thriving communities – and ultimately ensure Cities of Opportunity for all residents.
About the Authors: Clarence E. Anthony is the CEO & executive director of the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @ceanthony50.
Clifford Johnson is the executive director of the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.