Walk21-IV: Portland, Oregon, USA
Health, Equity & Environment
1-3 May, 2003
Like the fish not knowing it swims in water, we take walking for granted. But after decades of being ignored, walking is at last gaining recognition as an activity and a mode of transport fundamental to our personal health and the health and sustainability of our communities.
Walk21-IV: Health, Equity & Environment brought together activists, practitioners, decision makers and academics in public health, transportation, and community planning to help shift the global perception of walking and pedestrians. Delegates explored how walking is integrated into our infrastructure, our institutions, and our daily lives. Three themes, Health, Equity and Environment, were woven together throughout the conference.
A major focus of the Fourth International Conference on Walking was the emerging connection between walking, public health, and community design. In the U.S., physical inactivity threatens to overtake tobacco use as the number one contributing factor in preventable chronic illness and death. Studies are beginning to show links between sprawling suburban development and decreased levels of physical activity. What can be learned from the international community about research and policy interventions? How can we use this opportunity to further leverage this connection and develop the interdisciplinary tools we need?
H1. People who live in walkable neighbourhoods walk one hour per week more than those who live in less walkable neighbourhoods. By doing so they meet forty per cent of their physical activity target and halve their risk of being overweight. Developing neighbourhoods where people can walk must be a key component of public policy.
H2. Inactivity is the biggest killer in western societies. Everyone who promotes walking is thus a health professional with a vital message.
Walking is the glue of our urban transportation structures, yet it generates no major revenue stream and is too often relegated to the status of an "alternative" mode. Pedestrians get no respect, whether it's on the street or at the table where decisions are made. Even the word "pedestrian" (in English) has a derogatory connation. What are the barriers ¬ institutional, cultural, social, financial ¬ to internalizing the importance of walking? How have these barriers been addressed in other parts of the world, and in Portland?
E1. Walkable communities are designed inclusively for the needs of all levels of mobility and ability and at an appropriate scale for the speed at which the environment is used and enjoyed.
E2. People who use the city are almost invisible in the planning process. We need to acknowledge walking as a human right, as an activity which has dignity and respect.
For half a century the United States has led the world in planning the built environment for the automobile. Now that we've sold much of the world on the idea, we recognize we may have gone too far.
ENV1. Walkers are the indicator species of healthy, equitable and quality environments.
ENV2. The Segway is the latest “cuckoo’s egg” that is threatening to hatch in the space allocated for pedestrians. Pedestrians frequently have insufficient space as it is and should not be expected to share it with powered vehicles, unless these have a clear benefit for the mobility-impaired and are not intimidating to those on foot.
Refining the tools
R1. It is time for an International Accessibility Manifesto to codify good practice for walkable communities.
R2. There is an urgent need for an international online platform to enable professionals to share research and best practice. Country-specific issues should form identifiable and focused sub-sets.
Achieving the vision
A1. Experience suggests that by far the majority of communities have a longing for more walkable and liveable neighbourhoods. Advocates need to awaken and respond to that longing, by engaging, motivating, inspiring and supporting the community.
A2. Each profession has become its own audience. Working together, across traditional disciplines and boundaries, will improve the speed and effectiveness of achieving a joint vision.
A3. Creative ideas about walking, good practice and talented practitioners should be praised and rewarded.
A4. We spend three weeks of our lives waiting as pedestrians at traffic lights. Engineering environments that allow some travellers to save time, force others, especially pedestrians, to lose it. Educating and training engineers and planners to place walkers at the pinnacle of the transport hierarchy is a key goal.
A5. It is hard to imagine an agenda that would be easier to implement than the walking one, or one that would have more cost-effectiveness. We have to show our politicians that this is a great and realistically attainable prize.