One of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. is also one of the most active
When Money Magazine crowned Frisco the “Best Place to Live in America” in 2018, it didn’t just praise the city’s economic muscle. It pointed to Frisco’s overall health and quality of life as critical reasons why thousands are moving to the community every year.
Cruise through the city on any given weekend, and you’ll get a workout craning to watch all the activity: 5Ks racers gathering downtown, hikers on the trails at one of the 40+ parks, crowds filling the farmer’s market, future soccer stars scrimmaging on the 16 fields outside Toyota Stadium.
Yoga pants and exercise gear are the unofficial uniform of this health-conscious community, where just about everyone you meet seems to be coming from or going to a workout or sporting event.
Frisco’s active lifestyle is reflected in a long list of positive health stats for Collin County, which ranks well below the national average for smokers, obesity, and cancer and above the national average for life expectancy: 82 years vs. 78.
Frisco’s energetic Mayor Jeff Cheney says the city’s formula for good health works something like this:
Active lifestyle + community engagement + access to care and green spaces = tangible health benefits. “Seeing that connection happen is an enormous passion of mine,” said Mayor Cheney.
This fall, when UT Southwestern Frisco opens a new specialty clinic and 20-acre medical campus just off the Dallas North Tollway and Cobb Hill Drive, it will help cement Frisco’s status as one of the healthiest places to live in America, he said.
“We are so proud to have UT Southwestern, with its unique mix of specialized clinical care and top-tier research, coming to our backyard,” said Mayor Cheney. “Their arrival will be a vital component as we continue making health and wellness a critical aspect of our city’s fabric. And we also recognize that their beautiful new building will immediately take on an iconic status.”
Cultivating Frisco’s good health
If you were to put Frisco’s prescription for wellness under a microscope, it would reveal a multitude of factors, some natural and others engineered.
It’s a young city:
The median age of residents is 36.6 years.
“That is extremely young for a community of this size,” said Tony Felker, President and CEO of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce. “And it contributes to a community eco-system committed to a healthy way of living.”
It’s a smart city:
70% of its 188,116 residents have earned a four-year bachelor’s degree or higher. The national average hovers around 34%.
“That higher degree of education contributes to what many see as a healthier lifestyle,” said Mr. Felker. “And when you combine those demographics plus the sports teams we have, you can’t help but place more of an emphasis on health and fitness, which in turn attracts a higher quality of specialized health care and health-related research – all facilities that will keep the population in better shape.”
Green space is not just an option, it’s required:
“We passed an ordinance that future commercial spaces dedicate 10% of open space to things like pocket parks with hike and bike trails, all to increase walkability,” said Mayor Cheney.
Underscoring that commitment to overall good health, the city last February bought 390 acres of land at Brinkmann Ranch, located at Panther Creek Parkway and Preston Road, 240 of which will be used for athletic fields and bike and hiking trails. The purchase brings Frisco to 1,840 acres in total park space.
“With our commitment to sports and an active lifestyle, success breeds success as people of a similar mindset gravitate toward Frisco”
The influence of big-time sports:
Men’s Journal dubbed Frisco the No. 1 place to raise an athlete and, indeed, Frisco has become a sports hub. It’s home to seven pro teams. The Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Stars have relocated their headquarters and practice facilities to Frisco in recent years. FC Dallas, the pro soccer team, and the Frisco RoughRiders, the AA-affiliate of the Texas Rangers, have called Frisco home for more than a decade. And then there’s the Texas Legends, the Dallas Mavericks development basketball team; and the Dallas Rattlers, the only major league lacrosse team in Texas.
Add the PGA of America’s recent announcement it is moving to Frisco, and “Sports City, USA” sounds like a very appropriate nickname.
“With our commitment to sports and an active lifestyle, success breeds success as people of a similar mindset gravitate toward Frisco,” said Mayor Cheney. “And then the private sector jumps in: There seems to be a yoga and Pilates studio or workout gym on every corner, and they’re always packed.”
Christie Hutchinson, President of the Texas Healthcare Advisory Council, said that the sports culture naturally influences younger generations.
“After watching any one of the sports played professionally in Frisco – from soccer to lacrosse to football – the next day you’ll see so many kids bouncing a basketball or engaging in some kind of athletic activity,” she said.
Small school model produces healthy results:
Frisco ISD has 10 high schools with a cap of 2,100 students per school. “That means there are 10 basketball teams, 10 musicals, 10 bands, and just more opportunities to participate in athletics or in fine arts as well,” said Meghan Cone, Assistant Director of Communications for the Frisco Independent School District.
The small school model is built on a simple premise: By being more engaged in a raft of extracurricular and competitive activities – from football, baseball, and basketball to academic decathlons, robotics, band, and theater – every component of a student’s health improves, said Stephanie Cook, Managing Director of Guidance and Counseling for Frisco ISD. She said nearly 80% of Frisco students participate in an extracurricular activity.
“We’ve seen that active students have a higher graduation rate, higher grades, higher attendance rate, lower disciplinary problems, and a greater sense of belonging to the community – all of which is simply healthier,” she said. “They are also less likely to abuse alcohol and tobacco, and ultimately have a significantly decreased risk of suicide.”
Pedaling good corporate health:
One of the most under-the-radar ways Frisco maintains its health-conscious status can be found at Hall Office Park where, in partnership with Zagster, its bike-share program is available to all 10,000 campus employees. Started in May 2017, workers can pedal between any of the 17 office buildings, spread out over 162 acres. “Our goal,” said Kymberley Scalia, Marketing Vice President for the Hall Group, “is to provide a bike-riding option that easily improves health and wellness.”
The numbers seem to bear that out: Employees have burned 92,000 total calories from June 2018 to June 2019, Ms. Scalia said.
The California connection:
Texas and California have always had a complicated relationship, but there’s no denying the Golden State and its steady caravan of Texas transplants have had an effect on Frisco’s health.
Major employers such as Toyota have relocated to Collin County in recent years, bringing with them a roster of young Californians and their active lifestyles. California is the healthiest state in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, while Texas is No. 20.
Maintaining wellness: Frisco health challenges for the future
The blinding pace of Frisco’s growth – population has boomed from 117,089 in 2009 to 188,116 in 2019 – presents a unique set of challenges.
One of Frisco’s fastest-growing demographics is grandparents, many of whom are moving to the area to be near their families. With population projections topping out at 300,000 to 350,000 people, the city will need to find ways to engage its older residents, said the Chamber’s Felker, such as increased volunteer opportunities.
“The more engaged you are mentally and physically,” said Mr. Felker, “the healthier the overall community becomes.”
Frisco must also face the looming potential for an opioid crisis, said Ms. Hutchinson of the Texas Healthcare Advisory Council.
“We are right now trying to figure out where our problems are,” she said. “When it comes to awareness of this issue, we have people out there who don’t think we have a drug problem – and they would be wrong.”
“The more engaged you are mentally and physically the healthier the overall community becomes.”
Frisco ISD’s Cook said the immediate health concern in the schools is the popularity of vaping.
“(It) is another example of where we are trying to be pro-active and preventive, not just reactive to something harmful to a student’s health,” said Ms. Cook. “Our kids have been quite vocal about wanting vaping-related information.”
In terms of future health-related issues, Mayor Cheney sees them as challenges but also opportunities for Frisco.
“As we continue to grow, we realize that along with our active lifestyle there must be the accompanying medical attention that a UT Southwestern can contribute,” he said. “Being an active city is not just about having places to exercise, but to identify different types of care so that when you get injured, you have access to all kinds of care, including preventive research. Down the road, it will be about maintaining wellness before anything unforeseen happens.”
How healthy are Frisco and Collin County? Inside the numbers:
Collin County is one of the five healthiest counties in Texas, according to the 2019 rankings compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It also finished No. 33 among U.S. News & World Reports’ 500 healthiest communities in the country.
Home to about 1 million people, including nearly 190,000 in Frisco, here is how Collin County compares to U.S. and Texas averages for a few key health factors:
|Health factors||Collin County||U.S.||Texas|
|Adults in poor or fair health||13.7%||16.3%||18.9%|
Sources: census.gov; cdc.gov; usnews.com; money.com; bestplaces.net; visitfrisco.com