Healthy Cities Start With Healthy Babies

February 23, 2018 - (5 min read)

Right now, one of the fastest-growing companies in history is selecting the location for its second headquarters — and nearly every city in America wants to be considered. Though we do not know what city Amazon will pick, there are some distinguishing qualities likely to make cities more desirable.

Here’s a hint: It’s more than just the availability of sufficient office space.

Today, businesses value factors including available workforce, transportation and transit, and even entertainment options. But most importantly, healthy environments and healthy homes for a company’s employees have become a baseline expectations when businesses relocate.

Over time, cities that maintain healthy and toxin-free environments experience long term benefits for both the city and their residents. Exposures to toxic chemicals can be costly and lessen the long-term potential of a city’s workforce. Chemicals like lead, pesticides and particulates in the air can cause life-long damage to babies’ brains, including loss of IQ points as well as developmental delays and strong possible links to autism.

[blog_subscription_form title=”Subscribe to CitiesSpeak” subscribe_text=”Get the essential news and tools for city leadership, delivered daily by email.” subscribe_button=”Submit”]

Though chemicals are not the sole cause of these outcomes, it’s important for all city residents to know that they are among the most preventable. The strategic use of messaging around public health, economic impact, equity and sustainability can help cities overcome opposition to these kinds of investments and lead to sustained improvements.

There are proven interventions available to local city governments that both improve the health of cities’ most vulnerable young residents and ensure that cities are competitive for attracting new businesses. They also help make cities more resilient to climate change, lower costs to the public and make cities more livable and attractive.

With competing priorities and stretched resources, actions that achieve multiple goals make the most sense, which makes these interventions even more desirable. There are many partners available to help cities make these changes, including groups like Healthy Babies Bright Futures, regional, state and local nonprofits like Toxic Free Future and the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, and anchor institutions including universities and hospitals.

Interventions include:

Salt Lake City, Utah, was one of the first cities to become a Bright City. The Bright Cities program, part of Healthy Babies Bright Futures, partners with local governments and hyper-local, community-based non-profits to take action to minimize or eliminate exposures to dangerous chemicals and make communities healthier.

“Salt Lake City’s partnership with Healthy Babies Bright Futures has given us the tools to determine where we can have the most impact in protecting pregnant women and infants from harmful chemicals,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “The programs we’ve launched as a result will help ensure a healthier and brighter future for all.”

Over the past two years, the National League of Cities (NLC) has been working to identify promising approaches behind municipal efforts to make housing healthy and hazards free as part of our Culture of Heath efforts in partnership of The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control.

We have held both regional and national convenings with municipal leaders and their partners to learn, share and build upon successful efforts using housing policies to improve health outcomes. Through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we also convened a Mayors’ Institute on Housing, Hazards, and Health in Dallas, Texas, and shared lessons on city-level models to advance healthy housing,

Whether you are competing for Amazon’s second headquarters or not, we’d encourage you to make your city a Bright City.

Let us know if you think your city might benefit from becoming a Bright City or would like to learn more about NLCs Healthy Housing efforts and potentially get invited to our next national convening on Housing, Hazards, and Health April 9 and 10.

You can reach the Bright Cities team or our Health and Housing lead via the contact information below:

Heidi Gerbracht, Bright Cities Program Director:

Facebook: @HealthyBabiesBrightFutures

Twitter: @HBBForg

Anthony Santiago, Senior Fellow, Program & Partnership Development:

To learn more about of Culture of Health efforts:

Join the NLC Culture of Health email list:

Headshot Close up anthony santiagoAbout the authors: Anthony Santiago is the senior fellow for Program & Partnership Development in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Anthony at



Christopher GravinaHeidi Gerbracht is program director at Bright Cities. Contact Heidi at