Improving Your City’s Health and Quality of Life: How You Can Lead

Location Matters
Where we live matters. It shapes our opportunities — our access to quality education, good jobs, and sound health and well-being. But every day, children born in neighboring cities go home to vastly different circumstances. Shouldn’t they all have access to high quality pre-school, grow up with safe and walkable streets, and be protected from second hand smoke?

We don’t have to move for a healthier and more vital neighborhood — there are changes we can make right where we live. Civic leaders, parents, and businesses can work together to put in place approaches that are already working in cities across the U.S. and that can benefit residents in all neighborhoods.

Most Americans live in cities, but most don’t benefit from approaches that give everyone their best shot at a healthy and productive life. CityHealth aims to change this.

Local Solutions Are Key
CityHealth, a project of the de Beaumont Foundation, is powered by the idea that city policy can have a dramatic impact on residents’ health — which is tied directly to city prosperity and vitality. Launched last week, the CityHealth initiative enlisted the help of experts, leaders, and stakeholders across multiple sectors and political perspectives around the country to find successful solutions that can be used in cities everywhere. Together, we created a package of nine evidence-based city-level policies tied to improving the health and quality of life for every neighborhood and community. This package offers pragmatic solutions and empowers cities to make choices in the best interest of their residents.

CityHealth awarded cities gold, silver, bronze, or no medal based on the number and strength of their policies in nine areas, as well as overall. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington, D.C. were the only cities to receive an overall gold medal; five received silver; nine received bronze; and 21 did not have enough strong policies to warrant a medal.

These ratings provide city leaders with a new tool to assess and improve policies that affect the health and well-being of their residents. At the same time, the ratings give city residents a mechanism to hold their leaders accountable for paving the way for strong, healthy communities.

CityHealth’s nine policy solutions are:

  • Paid Sick Leave: No one should have to choose between taking care of themselves or family members and paying the bills. Earned sick leave reduces the spread of contagious illnesses, increases job and income stability, and saves cities and businesses from incurring extra health care costs.
  • High-quality Pre-Kindergarten: Children who attend high quality pre-Kindergarten are more likely to succeed in school, go on to stable jobs, and earn more money — all of which are linked to better individual health and stronger communities.
  • Affordable Housing & Inclusionary Zoning: Stable, safe, up-to-date, and affordable living conditions benefit everyone. Policies that help low and moderate-income people afford housing in new developments boost neighborhood diversity, improves quality of life, and boosts the economy.
  • Complete Streets: Safe and convenient ways to travel are necessary. Complete streets policies promote public health and safety by allowing city residents to walk, bike, drive or take public transit around their community.
  • Alcohol Sales Control: Neighborhoods with high concentrations of alcohol outlets are linked to higher rates of violence and driving under the influence. Preventing an excessive concentration of alcohol-selling retail stores in a neighborhood can decrease violence, crime, and improve public safety.
  • Tobacco 21: Preventing tobacco use has already had a dramatic effect on our country, yet smoking tobacco remains the single most preventable cause of death and disease. Policies that raise the minimum legal age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 reduce the number of young people using tobacco products and greatly reduces risks for addiction and disease.
  • Clean Indoor Air: Everyone should have access to clean air. Comprehensive clean indoor air laws decrease the number of people who use tobacco, and dramatically cut exposure to toxic, cancer-causing secondhand smoke.
  • Food Safety & Restaurant Inspection Ratings: Nearly half the money we spend on food is in restaurants. Restaurant inspection grades and policies requiring establishments to public post their inspection grades provide consumers with better information and contribute to lower foodborne illness rates.
  • Healthy Food Procurement: Everyone benefits from access to high quality, affordable food options. Policies that make sure healthy options are available in city buildings aid people in making smart decisions that will help them achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Research shows that the things that affect our everyday lives — such as education, safe streets, and access to healthy food — have an enormous impact on overall health. These are also factors in making cities livable and economically vital. CityHealth’s nine approaches have bipartisan support and clear scientific evidence demonstrating their value. These approaches are being used in cities across the US, so there is a track record that cities can evaluate and use to make informed choices.

What You Can Do: CityHealth in Action
Everyone has a part to play in taking action, and the de Beaumont Foundation’s CityHealth initiative will be there to help.

City leaders can use CityHealth tools to assess the current status of their community and evaluate how policies align with local efforts to improve health and vitality. CityHealth has compiled a set of evidence-based choices for cities to adopt along with information on the experience of other cities that have already moved forward.

Public health officials in cities bring a lot to the table. Health agencies have strong ties to the community and work effectively across sectors. They can help city leaders interpret the evidence in light of local conditions and strategize about the range of policies that can improve their city.

Residents know for themselves what’s wrong or right in their neighborhoods. They can help city leaders and health officials identify important needs and participate in the design and implementation of local initiatives.

Local foundations and civic groups can join CityHealth in this effort. For example, providing support to bring together local coalitions, building on existing efforts to adopt these approaches, or helping to build capacity for analysis and advocacy.

To aid city leaders and health officials in these efforts, the de Beaumont Foundation’s CityHealth program is committed to helping cities that choose a path forward. We plan to support technical assistance, help cities adapt research findings to local contexts, and facilitate the sharing of information across cities.

We live in a period of significant division over many issues, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t find common ground to improve our health and well-being. CityHealth has identified solutions to real problems that are grounded in evidence of success and that bridge partisan divisions.

Together, we can build cities that give everyone a better opportunity to be healthy and productive.