Freedom to Move and Identity – Let’s Talk About It

A graphic featuring text from the 'Freedom to Move' Introduction piece that reads "Walkability and accessibility are incomplete if we do not address all barriers to community members, particularly for those most marginalized."

To read this blog in Spanish, click here.

When people think about walkability, they often focus on physical surroundings – the streets, public spaces, and amenities that make walking and rolling safe and accessible.  But social, cultural, and political issues are equally if not more important. If one feels exposed or unsafe due to intolerance, harassment, or threats of violence, then a place is not accessible or walkable to them, no matter the quality of the sidewalks, crosswalks, or amenities. Walkability and accessibility are incomplete if we do not address all barriers to community members, particularly for those most marginalized.

This is an introductory post to a blog series in which America Walks will explore the ways in which current social issues intersect with our mission and how together we can work to create communities accessible to all.  We hope to provide our readers with the resources, tools, and analysis to be better allies in the work of mobility justice.  

Mobility justice is a framework that examines and seeks to address historical, ongoing transportation and infrastructure inequities that disproportionately affect marginalized communities. We support a vision for a world rooted in social justice where people feel safe existing on the streets and can build lives experiencing the full joy of movement and community regardless of their identities. We believe this is essential to promote the health, well-being, and success of our communities.

Let us consider how walking and rolling can hold unique significance for different people. For example, for some people, walking and rolling can mean leisure and movement; for others, walking and rolling can symbolize freedom, empowerment, and resilience; for others walking and rolling are a necessity of everyday living for access to school, work, and community. Let’s explore the ways walking can be meaningful:

Safety and Security

For individuals, particularly those from communities disproportionately affected by violence or discrimination, walking safely in public spaces can be an act of resistance and reclaiming their right to exist and move without fear. It’s an act of survival. Walking with a sense of security and freedom allows them to access essential resources, engage with their communities, and participate in daily activities without facing harassment or violence.

Access to Resources

Walking and rolling can be a means of reaching vital resources such as employment, education, healthcare, and social services. In areas with limited public transportation or where transportation costs are prohibitive, walking becomes a practical and affordable mode of transportation, ensuring access to these resources that may otherwise be out of reach.

Community Connection

Walking can facilitate connections. It offers opportunities for informal interactions, creating a sense of belonging and solidarity. Walking together can foster shared experiences, build trust, and strengthen social networks, which are particularly important for individuals facing social isolation or marginalization.

Visibility and Representation

By walking confidently and unapologetically, anyone can challenge societal stereotypes and perceptions that may seek to erase or marginalize their presence. Visibility leads to acceptance and understanding through walking. It can defy societal norms, disrupt biases, demand recognition and respect for their identities and lived experiences.

Advocacy and Activism

Walking can serve as a powerful tool for advocacy and activism. Marches, protests, and demonstrations often involve walking, allowing disenfranchised communities to make their voices heard, raise awareness about social injustices, and demand change. Walking as a collective act can bring visibility to specific issues and mobilize support for most causes.

Mental and Physical Well-Being

Walking has numerous physical and mental health benefits. For marginalized individuals who may experience higher levels of stress, discrimination, or limited access to healthcare, walking can provide a form of self-care, stress reduction, and an opportunity to connect with nature or their surroundings.

Freedom to Move Blog Series

Factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and ability intersect shape the significance and experience of walking and rolling for individuals. Acknowledging and understanding these unique perspectives helps create inclusive and accessible social environments. It supports efforts to address the systemic barriers that may hinder safe and equitable mobility for marginalized people. Mobility justice is essential for promoting equity, ensuring access to essential resources, supporting environmental sustainability, enhancing health and well-being, fostering economic opportunity, and building strong and connected communities.

True accessibility and walkability can be achieved when we dismantle barriers that prevent community members from fully participating. We will explore these topics in more depth in upcoming “Freedom to Move” blog posts.