Walking for Civility: 5 Reasons Why Walking Is Essential for Civility, Connectedness, and Community Change

At America Walks, we believe walking and moving can be used as an accessible, gentle, and tactical intervention for division in our communities. This three-part series on Walking for Civility examines the ways the act of walking and promoting walkable communities functions as a bridge to civility, connection, and community change.

At its core, civility is about our duties and responsibilities as community members, and walkability fits neatly into this idea of coming together around a common goal. How can we connect with one another if we are not free to walk and move safely, with enjoyment and gratitude, in public spaces? Beyond the necessity of walking as a basic human right, walkable spaces are critical to access to social connection, services, and businesses. Beyond walking and moving, investing in walkable, people-first communities is two-fold when it comes to bolstering our physical and social infrastructure. 

Here are our top five reasons that show why walking is essential for civility, connectedness, and community change. 

Walking Is a Relaxing, Safe Space for Sensitive Civility Conversations. You’ve probably experienced first-hand the emotional, expansive, and intimate conversations that can happen while on a meandering walk with another person rather than sitting in a meeting or at a table with them. That’s because walking, an immediate stress reducer, can offer a safe space for otherwise divisive or difficult conversations. Literally, it’s a less confrontational physical approach to spark deeper and possibly more vulnerable conversations as we walk side by side rather than sitting or standing head on. We also know that walking through green spaces can put the brain into a meditative state, which is a great individual baseline for fostering openness, understanding, and being respectfully present with others. 

In a conference or town hall type of gathering, disrupters can surface in a sit-down setting simply because of the layout or design of a room. We believe and propose that these civic confrontations could otherwise be avoided or downplayed while walking together in public spaces in a more intimate group setting –– where moments of pause, silence, and listening are more abundant in initiating civility. This is especially highlighted in a recent feature we did with a Benjamin Franklin Circles Walking Group.

Sedona Philosophy Benjamin Franklin Circles walking group exploring Red Rocks State Park
Sedona Philosophy Benjamin Franklin Circles walking group exploring Red Rocks State Park

Walking Sparks Positive Community Change.
At America Walks, we have the privilege of witnessing and inspiring the magic of community change that walking catalyzes every day. Our success in creating safe, accessible, and enjoyable places to walk and be active stems from the strength of the thousands of community change agents who we work with across the United States. Whether it’s supporting the installation of a crosswalk that offers a people-first, connective solution to services in a tribal community, or a Walking School Bus that connects students to after-school programs that they wouldn’t otherwise have had access to, walking creates accessibility, functionality, and necessary change in our communities. 

Walking Can be Used to Assess and Address Inclusiveness. Often times, the walking and moving conditions we might be familiar with as being accessible might be a completely different experience for someone who, for example, has more limited mobility or an intellectual disability. 

Walking and moving can be a critical tool for assessing all mobility experiences and how to make them better. Take the city staff of Brewon, Alabama, who recently got to work on a series of crossings and other connectivity efforts in an effort to make their city more walkable. It wasn’t until attending the America Walks ACE Communities Workshops that Brewton city staff realized they needed to dig in and hit the pavement, while involving community members with disabilities, to get a clear sense of how to make the walkable work they were investing in inclusive. 

Walking Builds Connections. And we can’t walk and move or build connections without connected infrastructure and networks. For example, imagine the endless possibilities of a trail that connects the entire country. That’s exactly what Rails-to-Trails Conservancy envisions with their Great American Rail-Trail –– a mult-iuse trail that stretches more than 3,700 miles between Washington and Washington.

young girl running across a bridge at MT Headwaters Trails with her family
MT Headwaters Trails – Scott Stark – Photo Courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

We also know that people
want people-first infrastructure. The results of a recent poll conducted by Praecones Analytica clearly demonstrate a national demand to increase connectivity within local neighborhoods through safe, walkable sidewalks. It echoes the notion that we cannot build connections without connected networks. The poll recently revealed that nearly 85% of adults acknowledge the importance of local officials using tax dollars to support sidewalks, and more than 70% of adults said they are more likely to support a candidate in local elections who is committed to fixing sidewalks and making them safer. Read more about these findings here. 

Walking Breeds Collective Action. We are a nation born in protest and walking is often the catalyst for both literal and figurative political and social momentum. Like when GirlTrek’s grassroots walking movement catapulted 15,000 thousand Black women to walk for better health at The National Mall. Or when the recent youth climate strike inspired millions of people to hit the streets in the name of climate justice.  

GirlTrek members at the America Walks National Walking Summit - Columbus
GirlTrek members at the America Walks National Walking Summit – Columbus

In its simplest form, collective action can be defined as a group of people working together to achieve a particular goal. Not surprisingly, many examples of collective action involve walking. Take
Walk with a Doc, for instance, which came to fruition because Dr. David Sabgir, a cardiologist in Columbus, Ohio and newest America Walks’ board member, became frustrated with his inability to affect behavior change in the clinical setting, so he invited his patients to go for a walk with him in a local park on a spring Saturday morning. To his surprise, over 100 people showed up, energized and ready to move. That very first Walk with a Doc gathering cultivated a major movement –– last year their participants took a total of 604 million steps in the name of health. 

It’s Time To Embrace Each Other as Fellow Travelers, Rather Than Enemies

At America Walks, we see no better way to do this than by walking and moving, side by side. When we step out and forward together and get to know one another as people first we discover we have so much more in common than not. 

We all have an obligation to recognize common humanity across differences. Walking, moving, and advocating for people-first communities provides the impetus to do just that. If you’d like to take charge and spark civility, connectedness, and community change through walking and advocating for walkable spaces, check out these possible actions: