Making Meaning and Finding Solutions for a Better Future and 5 Tips for Sparking Walkable Community Change

This blog was written by Kate Kraft, America Walks’ Executive Director. Kate provides seamless leadership and years of experience within the walking and active living movements to build prestigious partnerships, develop programs, and expand the walking movement. Kate is an expert in environmental and policy approaches to promote healthy lifestyles/built environments and is a spokesperson for the “Active Living” movement. 

There is no denying the significant suffering that COVID 19 has brought and will continue to bring for months and perhaps years ahead, however, there is also no denying that our future can be different from our past.  We can and must use our collective insights to make sure we bring forward the best of what we are learning from this pandemic and help create a better future. This is a moment in time to reflect and rejoice in the people-first, community changes we know we have the power to create. 

America Walks' walking college fellows exploring a park during the National Walking Summit - Columbus, Ohio, before social distancing.
Walking College Fellows at America Walks’ National Walking Summit – Columbus, Ohio (before social distancing).

As a community advocate, I have been reminded for years how slow change is and how you have to play the long game, and to some degree that is true.  However, this pandemic has shown us that we can change and change quickly when we put our mind to it.  We have seen rapid improvements in our air and water quality that goes to show us that changing our human behavior can reap incredible benefits for the health of our planet.  And, it can happen quickly. 

Communities and families all across the country are re-discovering parks, trails, and public space and are finding that they want more places for walking. Some are questioning the width of sidewalks that can no longer safely accommodate physical distancing, while others are demanding that speeding automobiles slow down or get off the streets altogether.  These are some of the changes we must take forward.

We are finding new ways to work and better ways to get to work.  We are re-purposing sacred streets to accommodate all users and considering people first when making decisions. We are shamed by the disparities and inequality we have lived with and are demanding that we all take action to make it right. We are seeing people fight for the right to vote, when recently we were apathetic about the responsibility of participating in democracy.

We are seeing more people concerned about their neighbors and willing to do what it takes to keep everyone safe and protected. We are seeing an awakening of collective understanding and insights. 

Today is a moment to realize that we have many possibilities for a better future and we have the opportunity and responsibility to make it happen. We can make the future one that provides fair, equitable, safe, accessible mobility and honors the sacrifices that we have all made to survive the pandemic and awaken to a new reality.  

Get involved to make your community safer, more accessible, and equitable one step at a time. Here are some ideas for getting started:

  1. Prioritize equitable planning, development and design. Not all communities have the same resources.  Inequalities in key neighborhood resources and responses to COVID-19 are glaring.  Push for more equitable access to public space while creating ample opportunity for community input to be reflective and representative of low income communities, communities of color, the disability community, older populations and other disenfranchised or underserved community members.
  2. Emphasize shared streets, slow streets, healthy streets.  Be part of your community’s effort to repurpose streets for all users. Again, ensure that all community members weigh in and that enforcement of public space does not perpetuate dangerous structural racism or ableism.
  3. Speed kills. Work to get speed limits lowered in your city. Twenty is Plenty is an international movement that saves lives by reducing speeds.

  4. Get tactical with your (social distanced) work. Open curbs, solo walk audits, DIY open streets, reallocation of pedestrian call buttons – review these guides on quick build pop-up options to try in your neighborhood.

  5. Keep walking and moving. Walk your talk. Now is the most important time to model, preach, and practice (send us your photos/videos!), that walking is a legitimate, effective, healthy, no-carbon footprint form of transportation

Download and share this graphic:

graphic elements and text representing five different tips for sparking walkable community change.