How Cities and Anchor Institutions Can Work Together on Health

February 7, 2018 - (5 min read)

Join the National League of Cities and the Anchor Institution Task Force (AITF) on Wednesday, February 21 for a Culture of Health Web Forum to learn more about how Cities are Leveraging Anchor Institutions.

Cities and anchor institutions face similar concerns about the health and wellbeing of their communities. Each offers assets and resources that, when aligned and leveraged, can amplify their capacity to improve conditions that affect people’s daily lives. A movement to promote the engagement of anchor institutions in community and economic development has continued to grow.

The Anchor Institutions Task Force (AITF) is one example of a network that has periodically convened to share lessons and ideas about how anchor institutions can collaborate and address critical issues facing localities, such as jobs, housing, health, education, the environment, and other concerns.

Expectations of anchors’ ability to collaborate and improve local conditions continue to rise. Local governments have been thinking differently about the role of anchor institutions in their jurisdictions. Sometimes, local governments seek payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS) from universities and hospitals.

As municipalities continue to face complex problems on limited budgets, government officials have begun to creatively envision how to leverage the resources and expertise of anchor institutions to improve schools, expand employment opportunities or train for the jobs of the future.

AITF is a values-based effort that suggests anchor institutions engage locally in a particular manner – being committed to place, democracy, collaboration, equity and social justice. Anchor institutions are enduring organizations that remain in their localities.

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Universities and hospitals are examples of institutions that endure and do not leave their geographic surroundings. Anchor institutions are often, but not always, among the most significant employers in their localities. They are both large and small.

In many instances, anchor institutions are reliable local assets. They are physically rooted and it’s difficult for them to move because of extensive structural ties to localities (i.e. substantial landholdings) even in the face of significant capital flight. While the anchors of prior generations were manufacturing or retail companies, those of today are overwhelmingly nonprofit organizations from museums to colleges to hospitals to libraries to philanthropic institutions to churches to a range of other entities.

While for-profit corporations are often more flexible in their commitment to their geographic locales, some corporations can philosophically deepen their connection to place. All anchor institutions are challenged to consciously deepen their dedication to their communities.

Anchor institutions, local governments, community-based organizations, and residents are interdependent in their geographical areas. They rely upon public services and infrastructure collectively. It is in their best interest to figure out how to partner for a collective greater good.

AITF conferences have been featuring municipalities that have been exploring ways to engage their anchor institutions as partners in reducing disparities and creating opportunities in their localities. Philadelphia; Newark, New Jersey; San Francisco; and Tacoma, Washington are among municipalities featured during recent AITF conferences.

Collaborations involving multiple anchor institutions jointly addressing issues of common concern are proliferating.  Local governments are particularly poised to catalyze, convene, and sustain this kind of collaboration. While anchor institutions do not always pursue collaboration with other anchors in their localities or regions, there is clearly an increase in multi-institutional partnerships.

One of the great challenges to these complex arrangements is the ability to bring these varying institutions together around a common agenda over a sustained period. A convening agent can enable, facilitate, and coordinate these partnerships. Local municipalities seem well suited for this role, particularly because their very purpose is the overall health and wellbeing of their surroundings. Anchor institutions can help extend local government’s ability to oversee functional, accessible, clean, and safe environments that provide their inhabitants viable education, health, cultural enrichment, and economic opportunity. If aligned appropriately, local governments and anchor institutions can pursue their shared interests.

One other pertinent issue facing the anchor movement and municipalities is how to, not only, forge strong localities together, but to do this equitably and inclusively. Prioritizing the interests of low income and historically disenfranchised populations during community and economic development is a challenge AITF is addressing directly. Looking ahead, this is crucial to the future of the anchor institutions movement and communities everywhere.

To learn more, join AITF and NLC in the first of a series of web forums to explore opportunities for cities and their anchor institutions to work together to improve factors that affect how well we live and how long we live. Speakers include: David Maurrasse, president of Marga Incorporated and director of the Anchor Institutions Task Force; and Sheryl Davis, executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. To join the conversation on February 21, from 2:00 to 3:00 pm EDT, click here.

david maurrasseAbout the Author: David Maurrasse is founder and president of Marga Incorporated and director of the Anchor Institutions Task Force.