Our policy research is informed by our commitment to policies that promote equity, sustainability, and efficient democratic government. We focus on concrete, implementable recommendations for mayors and city leaders.
Mayors and city staff make decisions everyday that influence public health and have the potential to increase or decrease health disparities in their community. But municipal staff are not often trained in or asked to systematically consider health implications of their work. This is beginning to change. Inclusion of health equity in decision making can be beneficial to local economies, create lasting and sustainable partnerships, and offer new opportunities for funding – all while helping local leaders better serve their communities and deliver on their commitments to equity and sustainability.
While schools and daycares were closed during the COVID-19 lockdown, children and their families were desperate for safe recreation options. In many cities, this meant the highest ever use of public spaces—parks, playgrounds, and pedestrian trails—which put additional pressure on city staff to maintain these spaces. City staff in Scranton, PA wanted to support families by ensuring the safety and visibility of city playgrounds and parks. To this end, staff rolled out a new parks cleaning and sanitation process that used backpack sprayers equipped with non-toxic sanitizer to clean park and playground equipment using grant funding from Healthy Babies Bright Futures and the Mayors Innovation Project.
In 2019, San Francisco became the first US city to ban flame retardants. Why?
Flame retardants are chemicals applied to materials to prevent the start or slow the growth of fire. They have been included in consumer and industrial products like furniture, sleepwear, TVs, and others since the 1970s. Due to health and environmental concerns, several US states banned flame retardants (known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs). These chemicals stopped being made in the US between 2004 and 2013. Even though PBDEs are no longer made in the US, products made with them remain in our homes, childcare centers, schools, and workplaces.
Exposure to flame retardants is linked to neurodevelopmental and endocrine system harm and cancer.1 Though these chemicals actually do little to slow or prevent fire, they leach into house dust, creating a major exposure route for babies and young children who spend lots of time playing on the ground and putting their hands in their mouths. To keep kids healthy, the City of San Francisco took a hands-on approach to reducing exposure to flame retardants in childcare centers and family homes that serve San Francisco’s most vulnerable children.
In 2019, the Mack Park Food Farm, a municipal farm and food forest, replaced an unused baseball field at a city park in Salem, Massachusetts. Today, it encompasses about 10,000 square feet, along with a recently constructed pond that captures water for irrigation and overflows to a nearby urban wetland. The Food Farm grew from the efforts of local residents and agriculturalists Matt Buchanan, Pat Schultz, and Andy Varela. It was built in 2020 with about $40,000 in grants, including a $5,000 grant from the Healthy Babies Initiative sponsored by Bright Cities and the Mayors Innovation Project.
Residents and community leaders in Lynn, MA worked together to address food insecurity by bolstering the Central Square Farmers Market and associated services to improve the health of pregnant women and young children. The City of Lynn, 10 miles north of Boston, is known for its contemporary public art, international population, historic homes, and public parks and open spaces. Relatively old housing stock, however, makes Lynn prone to lead paint hazards.