Walkability is a Health Justice Issue in Philadelphia
As a walk leader and organizer for Girltrek, the largest national public health organization that encourages Black women to walk 30 min a day for their health and well-being and We Walk PHL, a program that has established walking groups in parks around the city, I have witnessed the impact that walking can have – not only on personal wellness but also community building.
I have connected with Philadelphians of all walks of life and engaged in so many meaningful conversations. Walking together built new relationships around caring for ourselves and our communities.
I walk and cycle because self-care is a revolutionary act. As an African-American non-binary queer person who is also a parent, the stress of living in our society and enduring the impact of systemic racism can manifest physically. I walk to reduce my stress and increase the level of joy and natural beauty in my life. Nature is my refuge.
However, not everyone has ease of access to nature or safe environments to walk and it is our duty as Walking College fellows and change agents to not only address the symptoms of inequity but to remove the root causes.
We need to think beyond the built environment when pondering about improving walkability in communities of color. The social environment that racist and unjust policies have created also impacts walkability. As walkable community advocates, we need to also advocate for dismantling the presence and impact of systemic racism.
Walking advocacy usually begins with looking for areas of physical improvement and then finding solutions for built environments that prevent people from walking consistently like broken, narrow, or missing sidewalks and traffic signals.
But there are other factors that also prevent some communities of color from walking- like concern about violence. The immediate or knee-jerk response has been to increase policing, however, the real solutions have nothing to do with police. The solutions lie at the root of what causes our young people to resort to violence to survive- racial, economic, and social inequity.
Crime is generally an act of survival not a moral failure. The moral failure is on the systems and people that uphold those systems that create and sustain suffering.
Many large cities, like my hometown of Philadelphia, need to improve the quality of its education system and guarantee that all students have access to vocational training, mental health resources, and social services to support their development and well-being. We need to give our students a real chance to create a quality life for themselves when they enter the world as adults.
Advocating for walkable communities goes beyond the built environment. Advocating for walkable communities means becoming a stakeholder and change agent for authentic community engagement and holistic community wellness. That’s why it was important for me to share my perspective with our local pedestrian advocacy organization, Feet First Philly.
This expanded view of walking advocacy could look like supporting local and national legislation for issues of health justice.
It could look like making internal changes in walking advocacy organizations by ensuring that people of color, people of all abilities, and people of all intersections of humanity are fairly represented in positions of leadership, staff, and executive boards. We should be actively sought to provide expertise for educational opportunities like webinars and conferences because vulnerable communities are the experts in their lived experience.
Health justice issues are also walking advocacy issues. Operating from this position will allow us to truly walk together into a future worth living in.
To learn more about the America Walks Walking College and how you can apply, click here.