At the Northside Achievement Zone, where families and children move through a “cradle to career” pipeline so that high-risk youth graduate from high school ready for college. Here, a student participates in an after-school class. Minneapolis is one of six winners of the inaugural RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize.

2013 RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winner

Creating Healthier Environments for Everyone

"Despite what you might expect with the climate, any annual list of “most bikeable” cities is going to have Minneapolis, Minnesota, near the top. The key is infrastructure—the community is intentionally designed with bikeways and paths to encourage active transportation, including biking and walking.

That’s only one way the city is, overall, incredibly healthy. But it’s not like that in every area of the community.

"We have this incredibly healthy lifestyle and so many wonderful things, but we also have one of the largest gaps between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of any city in the country—in economic disparities, in health, in education,” said Mayor RT Rybak. “So our focus is absolutely on closing those gaps.”

Partnerships for a Healthier City

In a city that already knows how to successfully plan and implement public health policies, that means working to extend opportunities for an active and healthy lifestyle to areas such as North Minneapolis, which has a largely lower-income and African-American population. Partnerships between the city’s health department and non-profit organizations have put programs and policies in place to address problems that disproportionately affect people with limited incomes and educations.

“We benefit from that here in this community because we have so many partners, especially ones who can reach very directly into the many different cultural communities of the city," said Rybak.

This is the land of 10,000 lakes, but it’s really the land of 10,000 nonprofits and organizations.

Mayor RT Rybak

Creating Healthier Environments

Minneapolis is designed with bikeways and paths to encourage active transportation, including biking and walking.

Creating Healthier Environments

Minneapolis and over 40 community organizations are implementing a comprehensive obesity and tobacco prevention initiative to increase physical activity, healthy eating, and smoke-free living.

The Belief Gap

The Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) takes a “cradle to college to career” approach to helping low-income families in North Minneapolis make sure every youth is ready for college when they graduate high school. The place-based strategy seeks to end poverty by using education as a lever, according to Sondra Samuels, president and CEO of NAZ.

"Our goal is to change everything about a child’s life all at once, and so that means partnering with the parents. If the family needs housing, our team helps them get respectable housing,” said Samuels. “If they need a job, we are working with them to have more than just jobs, but careers.”

One of the featured tactics of the program is a family coach tasked with doing whatever they can to help the kids who might not otherwise make it through that path from birth to a successful career and all the important milestones along the way. A critical part of that is making these families—kids and parents—realize that they have the ability to succeed.

“What we know is that the achievement gap is made up of a lot of gaps, one of them being the ‘belief gap’—we simply don’t believe as a society that children born in a certain zip code of poverty, of violence, of single parentage, can actually do as well and excel in school,” said Samuels.

After one of NAZ’s 12-week parenting education programs, Samuels said one mother came up to her expressing that she finally believed her son was worthy of going to college.

NAZ recently received a sizeable grant from the U.S. Department of Education to grow its program to support 1,200 families and 3,000 children.


Families and children in NAZ move through a “cradle-to-career” pipeline so that high-risk youth graduate from high school ready for college. The place-based strategy seeks to end poverty by using education as a lever.

Increasing Opportunity Through Health Policy

Healthy Living Minneapolis is a health department-led initiative to improve access to healthy food and opportunities for physical activity, while decreasing exposure to secondhand smoke. This is especially important in urban areas where you find more disparity. Think about a single parent, running between two jobs, working to feed their family, and finding that the most affordable and quickest options are all unhealthy.

The plan in Minneapolis is to change the environment in which people live so that making the healthy choice is the easiest choice, said Rybak. His goal is a Minneapolis where every kid can wake up in the morning to a breakfast with fresh fruit and go to a school serving a healthy lunch—where they can walk through each day empowered with the knowledge about how to be healthy and the confidence they will have access to the resources to keep them healthy.

One of the major accomplishments of Healthy Living Minneapolis is Riverside Plaza. The private housing complex surveyed its residents and found that 85 percent of them wanted the ability to live smoke free. So a little over a year ago they started planning and in January 2013 the entire housing complex became smoke free.

"The changes that Riverside Plaza's been able to make really dovetail nicely with other changes that have occurred in our community,” said Gretchen Musicant, Minneapolis Health Commissioner. “A couple of years ago we were able to pass an ordinance so that there's no smoking in bars and restaurants, and so it fits into a strategy we have of trying to work in locations where people live, work and play so that the same messages are available no matter where people go, and that really changes the norms that people feel about their community.”

Bringing Bicycling to North Minneapolis

Minneapolis also realizes that one of the most efficient ways to improve public health is to build up resources on an established foundation. Venture North Bike Walk & Coffee, a bike repair and rental center, is working to bring the city’s culture of bicycling to North Minneapolis.

“One part of our city has a wonderful bicycle path going across the center part of town with almost no street intersections, and it’s a very popular, safe place to ride. It goes through diverse communities of all income levels and races,” said Shaun Murphy, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the City of Minneapolis. “On our other side of town where we don’t see so much bicycling, we don’t have that infrastructure there.”

The non-profit is able to sell affordable bikes to the members of the community by fixing up old bikes. It also works closely with the youth to train them how to fix and tune up bikes—real, solid job skills. And of course the new center of the community also sells coffee.

“It becomes a place where people can come and gather, as well as a place out of which programming can be done to help folks get a real sense of where they can go and what they can do with a bike and where they can walk and what's nearby and what's interesting,” said Musicant.

Toward A Healthier Future

Gradually and deliberately the health enjoyed by the residents in the higher-income areas of Minneapolis is spreading to those in the lower-income areas. Musicant, for one, says she is optimistic about the city’s future.

“This notion of collaborative effort is strong here and we’ve found that with a plan and with a convening of these people that we can achieve many things together that none of us could achieve alone,” said Musicant. 

We have so many people who want to work together.

Gretchen Musicant, Minneapolis Health Commissioner

A boy hula hoops during a block party.

RWJF Culture of Health Prize

The Prize honors and elevates U.S. communities working at the forefront of advancing health, opportunity, and equity for all.

Venture North Bike and Coffee provides youth employment opportunities and bike services in economically disadvantaged North Minneapolis.
Venture North Bike and Coffee provides youth employment opportunities and practical job skills.
Minneapolis corner stores sell healthy produce, and accept WIC and EBT coupons to increase accessibility of fresh, healthy foods in food deserts.