A Bright Future

August 4, 2016
City skyline with mountains in the distance

Over the past six months, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to visit all four cities that are part of the first cohort of Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ Beacon Cities including Dearborn, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Seattle.My excitement and optimism for the Bright Cities program and what this means for our future has only grown stronger after my travels—something I didn’t even think was possible! My intention behind visiting each city was to have the chance to meet the people I will be working with. But, what I left with was so much more than that… The valuable insights I gained through being physically present and actively involved in each of these cities have been priceless. Below are some of the highlights of what I’ve learned:

  1. Cities are doing a great job at leveraging their institutional complexities to achieve great success.

I know that the success of cities both big and small relies on the daily work of people who can both think AND do. Luckily, city governments tend to be full of people who excel at both figuring out the path and then walking purposefully along it.Most cities have numerous departments, each charged with different functions. However, much of the cutting edge work of cities means that city staff has to be prepared to work across departments, and even across jurisdictions, to achieve goals that require coordinated efforts.

In my travels, I got to see first-hand many of the folks in action that I’ve mostly been working with remotely.In Salt Lake City, Bridget Stuchly is working on sustainability planning while concurrently working on existing policies and programs across the city, with the strong support of Mayor Jackie Biskupski. Salt Lake City’s philosophy of sustainability includes avoiding dangerous chemicals, and the work of Bright Cities fits neatly into their paradigm. Bridget and her department have a community-wide mission and stand ready to take it to the next level through Bright Cities.

2. Cities are already doing great work and are keen to do more.

I was impressed with the number of successful programs already implemented in each city, but it was clear that cities are eager to do even more. This is exactly where the Bright Cities program can assist to take it to the next level.

In Minneapolis, I learned about the Green Business Cost Sharing program—an innovative way to support the industry to take action to reduce pollution. This program has already shown success in working in partnership with businesses in Minneapolis, and has great potential to be broadened and/or deepened with Bright Cities’ assistance to address more industrial-related chemicals. Nathan Olson, on staff with the City of Minneapolis, is working on the Bright Cities assessment.He has already made great progress pulling together citywide information to give us a clear picture of Minneapolis’ current neurotoxic chemical risks and opportunities.The assessment will help us develop the best roadmap forward to protect Minneapolis’ most vulnerable residents.

3. Cities are surrounded by effective, smart, and enthusiastic partner organizations.

In each city, I met with people from community organizations whose missions mirror, or are complementary to, the mission of Bright Cities.Many cities already work closely with these organizations. For instance, in Dearborn, my contact Dave Norwood introduced me to folks at Access, the largest Arab American human services nonprofit in the United States and headquartered in Dearborn, and Authority Health, which supports public health infrastructure, among others. Dave has been working with these individuals and organizations for many years.These organizations know their communities and will be instrumental in making Bright Cities efforts location-specific and effective. Bright Cities also has the opportunity to bring new partners to the table in our communities to help broaden the support for our work.

The changes we make today impact our future generations. Through its ability to develop and implement cutting edge, creative, and cost-effective solutions, I feel confident that Bright Cities will be able to expand each city’s effort of shining a light on dangerous neurotoxic chemicals and help to protect pregnant women and babies from exposures.  

Heidi Gerbracht
Bright Cities Program Director
Healthy Babies Bright Futures