Livability Solutions

Tool: Civic Engagement for Walkable, Livable Communities

The Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (WALC) has developed a Walkability Workshop that engages communities in making their streets and neighborhoods more walkable and livable. The Walkability Workshop illustrates how walkability benefits a community and how it can be achieved by applying the principles of active transportation and complete streets to town-making. This tool explains how transportation and land-use patterns influence individual health and community life, offering an expanded toolkit from which to build healthier neighborhoods. The emphasis on civic engagement encourages local coalition-building for program sustainability. This tool includes the following components:

  • The Facilitator’s Guide – Highlights activities that take place before, during and after a Walkability Workshop.
  • The Walkability Workbook – Four PowerPoint presentations that explain key concepts, identify deterrents and highlight interventions for advancing walkable, livable communities.
  • The Walking Audit Survey Tool – Allows participants to test their knowledge and document their own observations during a walking audit.

What is walkability?

Walkability measures the extent to which the built environment encourages people to walk.  A walkable community is accessible, welcoming, convenient and safe. The Walkability Workshop assesses the conditions of an area and is conducted by a diverse group of community members for maximum observation and input.  

Why is walkability important?

In communities and neighborhoods that are designed around driving it is found that social cohesion is lower, physical activity is lower, and transportation costs are higher. Where walking is convenient, safe and ubiquitous people report greater happiness, improved health, and more economic security. Local governments, developers, health advocates and other stakeholders are embracing walkable communities to help address such goals as reducing traffic congestion, improving economic resilience, allowing residents to age-in-place, and reducing household transportation costs.(1)

How can I advance walkability in my community?

Action 1: Engage your community in assessing the built environment
The Walkability Workshop will identify the barriers and enablers to walking in your community. The workshop format emphasizes community engagement to bring together individuals from across sectors who desire to address these challenges.

Action 2: Share the workshop findings with key stakeholders and prioritize next steps
Effective public engagement involves much more than telling people about a project. Rather, it facilitates a dialogue that leads to reciprocal learning, collaboration and – ideally – consensus. Community members have a unique knowledge of local contexts. As the working group shares findings from the Walkability Workshop, an action plan with prioritized opportunities should emerge.

Action 3: Gather resources and continue to tell your story
As you share findings, specific outreach tools might include educational workshops, media outreach, social media postings, surveys, print materials such as flyers and brochures, newsletters, presentations, charrettes, website updates, letters to the editor, coffeehouse chats, interviews, and attendance at city/county council or planning commission meetings. Identify the key messages and additional resources which are appropriate for each audience in order to build support.

Action 4: Choose a pop-up demonstration project to advance a quick win
Permanent, large-scale change can be difficult to achieve. That's why "pop-up" demonstration projects — temporary bike lanes, protected intersections, crosswalks, parklets, sidewalk cafes, plazas, benches, street trees and more — are such valuable tools. Also known as ‘tactical urbanism,’ ‘Do-It-Yourself urbanism’ or ‘DIY urbanism,’ these efforts involve community members working together to bring attention to an overlooked space. A temporary, pop-up installation or demonstration project can be quickly understood, supported, achieved and evaluated. Share the lessons learned from this experiment.

Action 5: Update plans and policies to support walkability
In order to advance walkability, a number of local policies may need to be updated. Embedding active transportation policies across health and transportation sectors will reduce the likelihood that agencies are working at cross-purposes. Attend city/county council and planning commission meetings and review your community’s capital improvement plan to identify upcoming opportunities to embed active transportation elements.

Action 6: Find an expert if you require technical assistance
As you work towards making your community more livable, you may run into barriers. The Livability Solutions Partners may be able to assist you through technical assistance and resources.

Sources

1) Evaluating Active Transport Benefits and Costs: Guide to Valuing Walking and Cycling Improvements and Encouragement Programs, January 2, 2017. Todd Litman Victoria Transport Policy Institute http://www.vtpi.org/nmt-tdm.pdf