Six New Cities Selected to Address Root Causes of Poor Health

October 29, 2019 - (5 min read)

To address the root causes of poor health in American Cities, NLC is pleased to announce our 2019 cohort in the new Cities of Opportunity: Healthy People, Thriving Communities Initiative.

This effort builds on the success and experiences of the Cities of Opportunity pilot, made possible with generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In the coming year, six city teams will build holistic, sustainable and equitable solutions to advance policy and systems changes that address underlying factors that affect their residents’ health and their cities’ wellbeing.

The six participating cities selected through a competitive application process are Dubuque, Iowa; Duluth Minnesota; Evanston, Illinois; Las Vegas, Nevada; Napa, California; and South Fulton, Georgia.

Varying in population sizes and spanning geographic regions of the country, each of these cities is well-positioned to take a holistic approach to address multiple factors that affect health, with a focus on housing, economic opportunity, and city planning and design. They are passionate about advancing equity and opportunity in their communities and want to engage more deeply with community residents.

Their leadership sees this as a defining time to work in a more integrated way to share and learn with other cities:

“We can be a model of inclusive development – regardless of race and class — for the whole country.”

—Councilwoman Naeema Gilyard, City of South Fulton

“We want to be part of telling the story of how NLC is at the forefront of connecting leaders. This opportunity is a way to tap into a national network of best practices, to lift up the work of Duluth, and to position our community and residents to be successful.”

—Mayor Emily Larson, City of Duluth

“We are focusing on the neighborhood with the highest unemployment in the city. The city is a leader in Smart City Technology – finding the workforce is the issue. If we can get people trained from this neighborhood, we want to hire them.”

—City Manager Scott Adams, City of Las Vegas

“Our unique experiences have prepared us for this opportunity, including the way our community has come together after disasters and worked collaboratively.  Also, our approach to our General Plan update provides great opportunities for community engagement and integration of health policies.” 

—Mayor Jill Techel, City of Napa

“In this post-civil era where we seem to quickly place labels on one another, it’s more important than ever that people of different incomes, races, ethnicities, etc. live among one another. In doing so we will find we have much more in common than we might imagine. Our efforts to expand accessory dwelling units, will create not only greater opportunities for our homeowners and tenants but reduce, I hope, the destructive labeling too many apply to others who may seem different than them.”

—Mayor Steve Hagerty, City of Evanston

“We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country but have rising poverty. We have people who want to participate in the economy but are not able to. Participating in this will help us to address and eliminate barriers.”

City Manager Mike Van Milligen, City of Dubuque

More opportunities will soon be available for cities interested in this work through the upcoming deployment of Cities of Opportunity learning communities.  Two new virtual learning components will launch in late 2019 and winter 2020. The new, pilot six-month Community of Practice will initially focus on data in partnership with City Health Dashboard as the lead subject matter expert.

[Join NLC’s pilot Community of Practice on data series that will offer in-depth virtual learning experiences on a single topic over a six-month period]

City leaders will join a community of peers to explore and share innovative ways to use data to strengthen existing efforts.  Following the pilot, Cities of Opportunity Communities of Practice will take further shape and sequence through single topics that enable city leaders to work together as peers to inform and advance their respective efforts to improve health and well-being.

An additional element will also be forthcoming in the new year. The Cities of Opportunity Learning Network is designed as a virtual learning community to provide foundational knowledge on six core capacities that city leaders and their partners need to drive change: data, financing, sustainability, equity and race, civic engagement and multi-sector collaboration. Look for more details in the new year.

Together, more and more city leaders will broaden their knowledge and strengthen their capacity to build Cities of Opportunity: where all people can live healthy, productive and fulfilling lives in thriving communities.

To learn more about the results of the Cities of Opportunity pilot cohort, please download the  Cities of Opportunity: Healthy People, Thriving Communities—Highlights and Summary from the 12-City Pilot report.

To learn more about Cities of Opportunity, contact Kitty Hsu Dana at or Laura McDaniel at

About the Authors:

Kitty DanaKitty Hsu Dana is the senior health policy advisor at the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. 




Headshot - Laura_McDaniel_smallLaura McDaniel is a program manager at the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.