Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with three of the five APM Community Connectors — Denzel, Melinda and Leon to talk about how they encourage walking and walkability in the communities they serve. While the APM Community Connectors promote a variety of programming and projects that strive to encourage community and economic development, I met with them to discuss the walking initiatives they encourage and participate in. I found it interesting because they view walking and walkability as a way to promote their overall efforts, which as Leon explained it, are to get people to better themselves through engagement. Engagement cannot happen without accessibility, and therefore promoting walking and making neighborhoods walkable is key to promoting community engagement.
Our conversation began with discussing the walking experience of the Connectors. A lot of the Connector’s work involves canvassing, which involves lots and lots of walking. On days they are canvassing they walk an average of up to four miles and talk to over 400 residents in the time span of two hours. While this work means navigating deteriorated sidewalks and intimidating intersections, they are still able to get all of this done in the limited time frame. They see this work as being the primary way to inform residents of how to get involved with the multiple programs they lead to benefit the community.
A couple of these programs directly involve promoting walking, walkability and accessibility. One activity they have lead in a couple of neighborhoods so far has been focused on working with community groups and community members to map out the walking routes that they typically take in the neighborhood. At each of these events they have presented the group with a massive map and stickers. The event attendees are then encouraged to use yellow stickers to identify their destination, and use red stickers to identify “hot zones” or problem areas that they encounter on their walk to that destination. A picture of one of these maps is displayed to the right. In general this helps the Community Connectors, the involved community groups and the residents to understand where people are walking and what obstacles they encounter, which helps to ultimately promote targeted interventions.
The APM Community Connectors have also had workshops on walkability with community members. At a workshop that they described, they brought props such as wheelchairs and walkers. They then broke into two groups and did two different walks. Along these walks each group did a walk audit, and at the end they had a debriefing of their findings and next steps. The goal of these types of workshops is to work with the community to make smaller, tangible improvements available to them. For example, if one area is missing painted lines that help identify where pedestrians can walk, painting the lines in is something that the community can easily do in order to make a safer walking environment.
While these are only a couple examples of the projects that Leon, Denzel and Melinda work on as Community Connectors, they are key projects to targeting the overall goal of APM and the Community Connector Program. The Community Connectors work hard to address walkability, in order to promote accessibility, which helps achieve their goal of advancing community engagement.