Leading a New Chapter at CityHealth

August 3, 2020

By: Katrina Forrest Catherine Patterson

Leading a New Chapter at CityHealth

Katrina Forrest, J.D., and Catherine Patterson, M.P.P., were recently appointed co-executive directors of CityHealth

CityHealth is many things to many people. It is a relatively young initiative that at its center, works to apply the lessons experts have learned about which policies are most effective to the lives and communities of everyday people. It focuses on helping city leaders improve the main touch stones of life in American cities, including opening access to healthier food, ensuring residents are able to safely walk, bike, and play on their neighborhood streets, keeping sacred promises to our youngest learners, and making sure every city resident can breathe clean air. Overall, our mission is to improve community health by advancing a package of evidence-based policy solutions that will help millions of people live longer, better lives in vibrant, prosperous communities.

A Historic Time for American Cities

We begin our new leadership roles during a period of historic, layered challenges for American cities. Municipal leaders are entering their fourth month of confronting the harsh realities of the coronavirus pandemic. Due to high population density, diverse populations, and increased travel and tourism in urban areas, the disease hit cities particularly hard, and many continue to be considered hot spots for the disease. At the same time, we have witnessed incredible leadership, and nimble, evidence-based policymaking in cities across the country. From creating “slow streets” in Oakland to spur pedestrian activity and support for small businesses, to passing a new bill expanding healthy food access in Atlanta, city leaders have shown, yet again, that they are still the ones to watch when it comes to thoughtful, impactful policymaking.

Cities are also grappling with an uncomfortable truth: that systemic racism has infiltrated every aspect of American life since the dawn of our republic and continues to haunt communities to this day. The protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis quickly spread across the country, where residents of color and their allies spoke up and demanded to be heard. This incredible, historic moment has sparked a new national conversation about how racism drives disparities in every aspect of the human experience, from levels of income, to rates of chronic disease, to life expectancy. Eliminating these disparities and disrupting systemic power imbalances will require intentional public policy efforts and we are committed to the tireless work and persistence it will take to realize these goals.

We come to this mission with humility. Adopting the CityHealth policy menu is by no means a panacea for the global pandemics of either coronavirus or racism. However, it is a place to start. For those leaders who feel a resolve to commit, in new ways, to creating more resilient, equitable communities, we invite you to join us on this journey of helping cities come back better.


The first five years of CityHealth’s work proved that our model, focused on promoting the adoption of a succinct, curated list of nine proven policies in the largest 40 cities was astonishingly effective. CityHealth awarded over 50 new medals in cities across the country and 17 cities improved their overall status by putting in place key policies to make an important difference in the lives of their residents. CityHealth is also responding to feedback from city leaders and incorporating the most cutting-edge research available to update its recommended policies, which will include new recommendations emphasizing mental health, climate change, and equity. These changes will enable the CityHealth model to touch more city leaders, and we look forward to collaborating with partners like you to advance policy that will create more prosperous, vibrant cities that help people thrive.

Co-Leadership: Doing Things Differently

The CityHealth model is inherently collaborative, and the cross-sector nature of the work is unique. It marries together the worlds of academic research and practical, on-the-ground policymaking. Making an impact in cities across the nation means marshaling the expertise of leaders and researchers from a wide range of sectors, including government, business, academia, and nonprofits. From the beginning, experts in public health, transportation, food policy, education and the medical community, have had a seat at the CityHealth table. Being effective means operating in unexpected ways that break silos and defy conventional wisdom. It means operating a little differently. This is why we are excited to engage in a co-partnership, as we lead this extraordinary team to continue sparking change in communities across the country.

Co-leadership is a natural extension of the collaborative, cross-sectoral work at the heart of CityHealth. The model is defined as shared leadership between two or more people. It stands in stark contrast to the age-old motto about the archetypal solitary, stoic leader, “It’s lonely at the top.” It’s born from celebrating shared wins and shouldering shared burdens. It stems from a more modern philosophy, acknowledging that organizations are complex and often require the skill sets and expertise of more than one person to truly maximize their effectiveness and thrive. We look forward to leveraging both of our strengths to build new partnerships, apply the model to more cities, and power CityHealth’s work into the next chapter.

We want to thank CityHealth’s national partners, the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, for giving us this amazing opportunity and supporting this team and this work. We look forward to deepening relationships with current partners, forging trust with new ones, and ultimately, being part of an initiative that is such a powerful catalyst in helping cities put policies in place that will help ensure every person, in every city can live their healthiest possible life.

Katrina Forrest, J.D, Co-Executive Director of CityHealth

Catherine Patterson, M.P.P, Co-Executive Director of CityHealth