Lessons from Cities of Opportunity Pilot Initiative Drive Launch of New Technical Assistance RFP

The following presents brief highlights of the work of twelve cities in the Cities of Opportunity pilot. Based on what’s learned from these cities, NLC is launching recruitment for a new cohort and invite cities to apply. Click here to access the RFP.

Cities of Opportunity are places where all residents can reach their full potential and live productive, fulfilling and healthy lives as part of a thriving community. Yet in cities across America, the life expectancies of residents who live a few miles apart, and sometimes even blocks apart, vary by as much as five, ten or even twenty years. Multiple factors – income, education, housing, transit, family and social supports, and community safety – all play a role in how long we live and how well we live.

The National League of Cities (NLC) launched Cities of Opportunity to strengthen city leader’s capacity to work in a more holistic way to address root causes of poor health. City leaders are uniquely positioned to advance cross-cutting approaches that address issues that affect the health of their residents and the vibrancy of their city. With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NLC recruited 12 cities in a competitive application process to pilot the initiative. Participating cities included: Atlanta; 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; and Roanoke, Virginia.

Cities of Opportunity reframed how participating cities thought about health. They found it to be a catalyst and accelerator for an entirely new approach to city services and partnerships and that it expanded their ecosystem. Participating in the cohort opened the door to intentionally infuse health equity in all their efforts. From late 2018 to spring 2019, these cities co-learned and co-created with NLC and subject matter experts. Several pilot cities codified equity policies and practices into their master plans and in agreements with developers. Others advanced partnerships and investments with anchor institutions. Cities developed structures to work across silos to align across city departments. They connected plans with data-driven dashboards. Pilot cities also accelerated their work in other national initiatives, such as Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership and Invest Health.

A few specific examples include:

  • Atlanta built hyper-local hiring requirements into their solicitation for Environmental Impact Bonds for innovative green infrastructure projects; thus, putting equity principles into practice.
  • Birmingham is operationalizing the Mayor’s Comprehensive Community Initiative with a model of governance, accountability and staffing structures for a “no wrong door” service model for all city neighborhoods.
  • Grand Rapids developed a new objective for health equity and Health in All Policies in the city’s new strategic plan. Now they will apply the health lens to all city policies.
  • East Point’s City Council unanimously adopted the Cities of Opportunity Resolution to guide equity considerations in all development decisions that come before the council.
  • Huntington recently secured funding from a major hospital to invest in community and neighborhood economic development in targeted neighborhoods.

What’s Next

Equipped with learnings from pilot cities, NLC is launching the next stage of Cities of Opportunities to engage more cities to drive change in policies and systems. NLC will move to scale by building a pipeline of cities through learning networks and communities of practice while supporting new cohorts of cities advancing action to improve multiple factors that affect health. Recruitment for a new cohort is in progress. Participating cities will benefit from city-centered and context-specific technical assistance; thought partnership with peer cities, national experts and philanthropic leaders; a focus on equity and race; strategic use of data; and access to recent research and innovations. There will be two peer-to-peer convenings over the course of the year-long cohort – one towards the beginning in Washington, D.C. and one towards the end.

NLC welcomes applications from cities across geographic areas and of various types (e.g., rural, suburban, urban). The deadline is August 30, 2019. Click here to access the RFP for the next Cities of Opportunity cohort.

Learn more about the accomplishments of the 12 pilot cities in this full report – Cities of Opportunity: Highlights and Summary from 12-City Pilot.

About the Author: Kitty Hsu Dana is the Senior Health Policy Advisor in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.