Government

GR joins national program

City is one of a dozen that will collaborate on improving residents’ economic opportunity.

August 31, 2018
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Grand Rapids will be one of 12 U.S. cities to join the National League of Cities in a pilot study to improve residents’ health and equity.

The NLC’s Cities of Opportunity is a pilot program intended to address multiple factors contributing to the health and longevity of residents beyond traditional medical care.

“City leaders are uniquely positioned to address the many factors that converge at the local level,” said Kitty Dana, program leader for Cities of Opportunity. “Our initiative was conceived to support the capacity of city leadership to drive a more integrated way to address priority issues across city agencies and with community partners.”

Participating cities will focus on three major factors that affect health, identified through key informant interviews with a wide group of mayors, council members and other city leaders. They are:

  • Economic opportunity: the capacity to work and support a family, plan for the future and improve one’s standard of living

  • Housing: an affordable, safe and healthy home with access to jobs, schools and community resources

  • City planning and design: land-use and transportation decisions that enable residents to be connected to the people, places, resources and services they need

Dana said Grand Rapids was a “wonderful” fit for the pilot, citing the city’s existing efforts to address residential inequities.

“The city recognizes the interconnectedness of factors that affect the health and well-being of a city and its residents,” she said. “It is advancing equity — especially racial equity — through city data and doing targeted work in neighborhoods with the lowest health outcomes, it is updating the city’s master plan with extensive resident input, and Grand Rapids wants to co-learn, co-create and share learnings with other cities.”

According to information provided by the city, multiple factors including education, employment, family and social supports, community safety, air and water quality, housing and transit all play a role in shaping health outcomes in communities.

Grand Rapids has partnered with NLC in the past on other community improvement efforts, according to the NLC’s website.

In March 2017, Grand Rapids partnered with the Rose Center for Public Leadership — jointly operated by the NLC and Urban Land Institute — to explore the best ways the city could utilize public land with high-quality parks, a riverfront recreation trail, more mobility and housing options, and economic opportunities.

Grand Rapids also joined a seven-city cohort led by the NLC in November 2016 to implement strategies for connecting children to nature more equitably in their cities. To this end, the city prioritized developing green schoolyards, connecting children to nature through out-of-school programs and bringing more diverse groups of residents in regular contact with natural features in city park systems.

“I am thrilled that Grand Rapids will collaborate with other cities on ways to improve factors that affect the health of our communities and our residents,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “We have many exciting initiatives rooted in racial equity that align with the Cities of Opportunity priority areas.”

Dana added: “Mayor Bliss was a key informant when we were just beginning to design Cities of Opportunity. We were struck with her strong focus on building economic opportunity in the city, while consistently noting the connectedness across multiple issues.”

Grand Rapids currently is in the “infancy stage” of forming a team for the pilot, said Becky Jo Glover, Grand Rapids team leader and 311 Customer Service director. The initial documentation the NLC provided the city encourages it to work with external partners, and the team’s makeup will be determined later in September.

“To do this right, the city must partner with local minority organizations as we start this journey,” Glover said.

Other cities participating in Cities of Opportunity are:

  • Atlanta, Georgia

  • Birmingham, Alabama

  • Charlotte, North Carolina

  • East Point, Georgia

  • Fort Collins, Colorado

  • Hopewell, Virginia

  • Huntington, West Virginia

  • Lansing

  • New Orleans

  • Rancho Cucamonga, California

  • Roanoke, Virginia

The teams from each pilot city will come together in October in Atlanta to share data and collaborate on solutions.

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