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Community Wellness: A Mayor’s Responsibility

By Tucson (AZ) Mayor Robert E. Walkup
July 30, 2007


“Build me a model of a healthy community.” This was the request of Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the United States on one of his visits home to Tucson (AZ).

Tucson was already a leading city in the promotion of community wellness. We are home to the University of Arizona’s Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition; the College of Integrated Medicine led by Dr. Andrew Weil; the world-renowned Canyon Ranch and Miraval health resorts; and the El Tour de Tucson annual bike race. We also sponsor hundreds of programs and projects focusing on improving the health and wellness of our community.

But as mayor of Tucson, I knew the city could do more. Health and wellness is a key component of a city’s quality of life. A healthy community is more likely to be prosperous, educated and civic-minded. The goal was to develop a sustainable health and wellness program for our people.

So I created the Mayor’s Healthy Tucson Initiative, which focused on the five areas that Dr. Carmona and I felt were important to a healthy community: physical health, emotional health, safety, substance abuse prevention and violence prevention.

I brought together people who were leaders in their fields and developed a steering committee that created the framework for the Initiative. Committees for each of the five focus areas were created with a chair and a champion for each. They began in earnest in 2003 to find ways to create sustainable change and improvement in their areas.

One thing became very clear to me as we moved forward. In order for change to be truly sustainable, it would require not just energy and effort, but city policies that would maintain the momentum and demonstrate support for healthy lifestyles. Some examples: the city began requiring five-foot wide bike lanes on any new, improved or resurfaced roadways. New residential developments were required to set aside large areas as open space. All persons under the age of 18 were required by law to wear a bike helmet.

The formula for success included using both the mayor’s “bully pulpit” to rally the community and working within city government to make sure our policies and programs were consistent with the Initiative’s goals. This is something mayors can do even if they do not run a health department or play any formal role in the provision of health care to their people.

The Mayor’s Healthy Tucson Initiative began to yield our city national recognition. Tucson was recently named the 5th healthiest city in the U.S. according to Men’s Fitness magazine. We have been awarded gold level status as a bicycle friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists, and our goal is to reach platinum next year.

Based upon our city’s successes, I wanted to share this initiative with other fellow mayors, both nationally and internationally. So I created the Mayor’s Global Alliance for Community Wellness.

Now I am asking mayors here and around the world to join me in focusing their efforts and energies on improving the health and wellness of their cities and citizens. You can become a member of the Global Alliance by clicking on the Alliance logo at www.activatetucson.org and filling out the short registration form. An assessment tool and plan development tool will be sent to you to assist you in starting your journey. As a partner, your city will be recognized and will be asked to share with others its accomplishments and how it achieved them with other communities.

Together we can have a significant affect on the health and wellness of the world and its people.

For further information, contact Annemarie Medina at Annemarie.medina@tucsonaz.gov or 520-791-4201.