By Mary Michaels, Public Health Prevention Coordinator, Sioux Falls Health Department, Sioux Falls, SD
Thanks to the generous support of the National Physical Activity Society, I had the pleasure of attending the recent National Walking Summit in St. Paul, Minnesota. In my good fortune, I have now attended all three Summits, and each one had its own air of excitement.
For example, in 2013, I was the lone South Dakotan attending the Summit in Washington, DC, which was held during the government shutdown. Some speakers cancelled because they were furloughed. We could only walk past the barricaded monuments that were “closed” due to the shutdown. And, on “Walk the Hill Day” when we advocated for walkable communities with members of Congress, I left my Senator’s office and was walking to the Metro just minutes before a woman rammed her car into a barricade causing a Capitol lockdown.
In 2015, our South Dakota delegation had grown to five, making it easier to “divide and conquer” at the Summit with all the great sessions being offered. At a DC restaurant one night, we literally walked into an episode taping of the Travel Channel’s Food Paradise show. We were told we might be included in the segment, and all we had to do was eat the featured food item and talk about it. The crew got a good laugh when we told them we were all in the field of health promotion, and the featured food was a fried chicken sandwich on a doughnut bun with maple syrup drizzle! (And yes, we had our 30 seconds of fame when the program aired.)
So, how could the 2017 Summit possibly top those experiences?
Well, this year’s excitement was being part of a panel selected to present a breakout session featuring stories of walkability from South Dakota communities. Six of us from communities large and small had a great time being on the other side of the microphone, so to speak, and enjoyed our discussion with everyone who was kind enough to come to our session.
Once again, Summit organizers put together a dynamic program with an abundance of knowledgeable speakers on important topics. While others had their laptops and tablets on hand during the sessions, I went old school and brought a blank notebook – filling the pages with quotes, ideas, and resources I found relevant to my public health work. It’s taken some time to go back and really dig into those notes, pulling out the most notable nuggets of information. So, while this certainly doesn’t include everything I gained from the week in St. Paul, here’s my 2017 National Walking Summit Top Ten List:
10. Communities have a responsibility to provide safe crossings.
9. Buildings should define streets, not parked vehicles (e.g. put parking next to, behind,
above or below a building – not in front of it)
8. If you build to make it good for pedestrians, you’ll make it good for all.
7. We’re going to have challenges that knock us down as we do this work. But, in the words of Juliette Rizzo,
Ms. Wheelchair America 2005, “Falling down is part of life, but getting up is living.”
6. You can lead from wherever you are.
5. Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities are expected to increase by 11% this year.
4. Lack of connectivity disproportionately impacts lower income populations, and it negatively impacts health
and economic development.
3. Complete streets are good, but what we really need are Complete Neighborhoods.
2. Advocate to meet the needs of everyone: Practice Radical Inclusion.
And my #1 lesson learned from this year’s National Walking Summit that applies not only to improving walkability, but also to any efforts to improve physical activity and health is this:
1. Be unapologetically passionate about the work you do in your community.
To build a healthy community, all sectors – including government, business, education, health care and community service organizations – need to be fully invested in the belief that community health is everyone’s business. The sectors must work together and consider the social, economic, environmental, and physical factors that influence the health of individuals and the community as a whole.
All sectors are needed to improve the built environment and support the integration of physical activity into daily routines like walking or biking to work, school, grocery stores or parks. Not everyone may think of streets and sidewalks as tools to improve health, however, so we must then use our unapologetic passion to re-frame health issues and make them relevant to each sector.
For example, the built environment impacts the health care sector because Americans miss more than two million health appointments annually due to transportation issues. Businesses can lower health care costs and support a healthier, more productive workforce by implementing policies and programs that encourage employees to walk, bike or participate in other recreational activities both during and outside of work hours.
Developers, planners and engineers should consider health impacts when making decisions about land use and transportation.
It is essential to seek out individuals who can collaborate on creating an accessible, walkable community for all residents, regardless of age, income level or disability status. There are people in communities across America who choose to walk, bike or use transit…and there are many more who are solely dependent on those modes of active transportation (in all seasons!).
In that regard, it seems I need to change my list to a “Top Eleven” in order to place this important reminder at the top: When we find solutions that work for the most vulnerable in our communities, we find solutions that work better for everyone.
This is the 2nd in a series of essays about attending the National Walking Summit. See the 1st.