The Cities of Opportunity initiative operates on a core belief: where you live shouldn’t determine how healthy you are or how long you live.

The Cities of Opportunity’s portfolio of programs positions city leaders to assume their critical role as health leaders. Addressing the root issues of health disparities often requires examining decades of discrimination and racism that are baked into city policies, practices, systems, and structures. Policies have longevity, and while unraveling their legacy of inequity and harm requires a multi-faceted approach, one critical tool for cities is policy action. Just as past policies have created inequities, policy action now has the power to write a new legacy, one centering equity, community and well-being.

What is the Policy and Systems Change Academy?

The Policy and Systems Change Academy is a five-month, cohort-based experience that supports municipalities in their efforts to advance health and racial equity through climate resilience and mitigation work with the help of the Policy and Systems Change Compass.

The Policy and Systems Change Compass was first piloted by Cities of Opportunity and the Urban Institute in 2023 with teams from three cities: Dubuque, IA; Roanoke, VA; and Tacoma, WA. This issue-agnostic tool guides city officials and their partners through a series of essential steps on their path towards policy and systems change—from the identification and analysis of the root cause of the problem to developing and selecting the most promising and feasible policy proposals.

Cities engaged in the 2024 edition Policy and Systems Change Academy, city leaders, and their partners will apply the Compass framework to collaboratively design and refine policy proposals that facilitate equitable climate resilience. Policy solutions will center the impacts of climate on marginalized populations, recognizing the role of systemic racism and the decisions that have concentrated black, brown, indigenous, low-income, elderly and other marginalized populations in areas of greater pollution and environmental hazards, compounding their risk from increasing and increasingly severe climate events, such as flooding and heat events.

Through their participation in the Policy and Systems Change Academy cities receive:

  • Training
  • Hands-on assistance
  • Consulting
  • Peer-to-peer learning opportunities
  • Access to faculty experts to help formulate multi-year work plans

Current Cities in the Academy

Cities of Opportunity welcomes the inaugural cohort of the Policy Academy:

  • Dearborn, Michigan
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Mount Vernon, New York

From February to June 2024, these four cities will work their way through the Compass process with support from staff at NLC and the Urban Institute. Each city will work to identify root causes for the priorities in their community’s climate resilience plans and develop a policy roadmap, rooted in actionable policy solutions.  

Cities of Opportunity

Municipal leaders know that achieving health equity doesn’t happen overnight – that removing inequities so all city residents have the opportunity for health and well-being requires considerable effort and focus, collaboration, dedication and the willingness to confront systems and policy barriers.

But it can be done. And the results are transformational.

Grounded in a Theory of Change and strategies that center equity, authentic community engagement and sustainability, CoO helps bring communities together through four key entry points (Action Cohort, Mayors’ Institute, Learning Labs and Solutions Forum) to find common ground and drive transformational change toward equity, well-being and life expectancy.

Cities of Opportunity is generously supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.