5 Cities Focusing on Climate and Health

April 20, 2021
Green infrastructure

Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ Bright Cities program works with city leaders to equitably safeguard all children's futures. Nearly 30 cities across the country have worked to mitigate air pollution, trained childcare providers and parents to reduce toxic exposures at childcare centers, hosted healthy cooking demonstrations, and more.

A Bright City works to lessen the harm of neurotoxic chemicals in ways that are tailored for each community — and for many cities, "green infrastructure" projects solve a variety of environmental issues. Green infrastructure projects include activities like tree planting, helping trees thrive with less pesticides, or planting vegetative barriers to remove air toxics. 

These projects that focus specifically on vegetation and the environment have a huge impact on the health of babies in the community. In a review of over 32 million births, scientists found significant associations with preterm birth, low birth weight babies, and stillbirth in women exposed to air pollutants and extreme heatwaves. And these outcomes are associated with attention and learning deficits. 

But there are simple solutions to help lessen the impacts. For example, particles from car exhaust can be reduced by up to 60% on streets lined with trees. Here is how 5 Bright Cities have impacted not only the health of their residents, but the health of their environments through green infrastructure. 

  1. Providence, RI just launched Pesticide-Free PVD, a campaign to reduce the amount of pesticides and chemicals used in lawn maintenance. Not only does the Pesticide-Free PVD campaign include education on the negative health impacts of chemicals on human health and on pets and other animals, but it also shares best practices and tips for managing lawns without pesticides or harmful chemicals.

    Providence’s Parks Department minimizes public exposure to toxic chemicals by reducing, and in many cases eliminating, the use of pesticides. The Department does not use pesticides as a regular part of their treatment plan for any parks or playgrounds in the city and they are only used sparingly as a last resort option. Plans are in place to implement successful Integrated Pest Management strategies throughout the city in lieu of last-resort pesticides.

    Bonus: when residents take the Pesticide-Free PVD pledge, they have the option to request a yard sign and are encouraged to talk to a friend or neighbor about going pesticide-free!

  2. In their work with Bright Cities, Columbia, SC, prioritized four actions: testing water in drinking fountains for lead, education about lead-safe soils, sharing of high-quality food, and tree planting.

    Columbia’s Forestry and Beautification Department planted 10 southern live oak trees in the historic Heathwood neighborhood. The new trees were planted to help mitigate vehicular-related air pollution after the local high school built tennis courts and a new athletic field in the area. The tree planting in Columbia played a critical role in creating a shared and healthier path forward for residents.

    “The link between health and sustainability is at the very core of Bright Cities,” says Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. “With one outstanding program, we were able to positively impact two of our City’s priorities — the health of our babies and a clean environment.”

  3. Three of Boulder, CO’s, affordable housing communities – serving more than 130 families – are currently transitioning to chemical-free turf management, with the long-term goal of transitioning all 35 of Boulder’s affordable housing communities. This process is happening in tandem with resident education about how to improve indoor air quality and how to use less neurotoxic products at home.

    More than 250 children live in the three communities that are moving towards chemical-free turf, and thousands more will be positively impacted when all 35 communities have safer alternatives to lawn management. Boulder has taken healthy lawn care a step further by creating a guide to organic lawn care, which provides step-by-step directions for organic lawn management. Residents can choose between three plans to fit their budget and meet their expectations.

  4. As a smaller city with limited capacity and resources, Missoula, MT, leveraged a successful partnership with Bright Cities to plan for a sustainable transition to chemical free turf maintenance for all turf managed by the City of Missoula.

    Reviews and studies have linked pesticide exposures during fetal development with poorer cognitive, behavioral, and social development in children. The Missoula Parks & Recreation Department currently uses several environmentally preferable turf management methods, and is taking steps to transition to 100% chemical–free turf management.

    City staff are working with Beyond Pesticides to develop a comprehensive chemical–free turf management plan emphasizing soil health and field–maintenance based on their level and type of use. Sharing information about the steps the City of Missoula is taking to minimize the use of pesticides will be done to increase awareness and encourage residents and other landowners to eliminate pesticide use on their properties.

  5. Tempe, AZ, has invested in planting vegetative barriers to reduce air toxics. They are also in the midst of measuring the impact that those hedges have in reducing outdoor air pollution. The city will be able to use the data that they collect to translate science on the co-benefits of reducing air toxics to protect babies’ brain development and climate change mitigation.

    A resident guide to planting hedges to mitigate outdoor air pollution will be publicly available this summer, and a “Seeds for Shrubs” give-away event will be held for Tempe residents too.

    “We have an obligation to find immediate solutions to these problems because the problems are right there before us,” says Tempe Councilmember Lauren Kuby.

To learn more about what cities are doing to reduce babies' exposures to neurotoxins — and see step-by-step examples of success — check out our Bright Cities Case Studies