It all began with a dare. In 2003, Tucson native and former surgeon general Richard Carmona challenged his friend, Mayor Robert E. Walkup, to turn their hometown into the model of a healthy city. He has done it, reshaping his city into a place where health and safety aren't an afterthought, but an integral part of municipal planning.
The sprawling, multi-faceted Healthy City Initiative is based on Carmona's five pillars of a healthy community: the physical, the emotional, safety, violence prevention, and substance-abuse prevention. Tucson now has 700 miles of bikeways and 72 miles of shared-use paths, and plans to spend more than $80 million to make it an entirely walkable, bikeable city. There are regular bike and foot races, and "we've partnered with neighborhood associations to encourage walking programs," says Annemarie Medina, who leads the health effort for the mayor.
All that moving around has also turned Tucson into one big neighborhood-watch program — crime is down 20% since 2006. High-profile locals including Mike Stoops, coach of the University of Arizona's football team, serve as ambassadors for domestic-violence prevention. And by targeting four neighborhoods with a public-private enforcement-and-treatment project, Tucson has seen a 45% reduction in crystal-meth availability since 2006.
Walkup intends for the benefits of his initiative to ripple well beyond Tucson. In December, he hosted mayors from around the U.S. for a Healthy City Summit. And he created the Mayor's Global Alliance for Community Wellness, a Web site where civic leaders can share best practices; 41 city managers from six countries now participate.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.