How #LocalLeadership encouraged an obese town to lose a million pounds.

I remember reading an article about Mayor Mick Cornett leadership years ago and was so inspired by how local leaders could affect real change in their local communities. So it only felt right for the first #LocalLeadership blog post to be about Mayor Mick’s amazing achievement.

On New Year’s Eve in 9 years ago the Mayor of Oklahoma City, Mick Cornett declared that his city had to go on a diet, and lose a collective million pounds in weight. London Borough of Newham attempted to do something similar this year called the Million Miles Together Challenge and with a few more tweaks it could have the same impact. Anyway back to Mayor Mick,  he had been diagnosed as obese and realised his constituents were also, Oklahoma City was named one of America’s fattest cities (not a Top 10 list you wanna be on really?).

In just 5 years he achieved his goal. Here a few cool key things Mayor Mick did…

Held a conversation! Sounds so simple but having a genuine two way dialogue with residents is so effective but always dismissed. I guess the logistics around holding conversations are easier said than done but doing the right thing isn’t always easy (Gosh! I’m pulling out all the phrases here!) Mayor Mick also encouraged conversations to take place within the community, faith groups, schools and homes.

Worked with the media. Let’s face it the power of the media can work with you or against you. Mayor Mick was brilliant at getting the local media not only on side but supportive of the initiative. And I guess getting on the Ellen Show will push your message out there a tiny bit ;).

Regeneration, Mayor Mick redesigned areas of Oklahoma City. So rather than favouring cars they encouraged walkability using a ‘walkscore’ a mapping term created by City Planner Jeff Speck  (my Forest Gate North residents would LOVE this!). He created a wellness centres, encouraged cycle lanes, side walks (pavements), connecting libraries and schools via nicer pavements. (Another new an interesting mapping term is “obesogenic”. This is a name for places that have the most difficult walkable areas and the highest amount of obese people. I wonder where London and boroughs in London would rank in this list.

However, regeneration like this can and did encourage rapid gentrification. I personally don’t think gentrification is a innately bad thing. However, gentrification needs to be seriously managed with proper leadership, basically I think this requires local (and regional) government intervention i.e. building affordable (and I mean affordable) homes, up-skilling communities, free high-quality ESOL classes and real community cohesion initiatives. Gentrification can’t be about pushing natives or the “roadmen” out. What it should be about is encouraging social mixing which is also good for improving educational attainments in schools and those with more cultural capital helping to lobby for a better local environment for everyone not just their newly coined “village”.

You can watch more about Mayor Mick Cornett’s initiative below.

Let’s Change the Change


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