Walk21-XV: Sydney, Australia
Walking and Liveable Communities
21 - 23 October, 2014
With a packed program of international speakers, local advocacy and national expertise, we were inspired, informed and once again enriched by the experience of coming together and talking about walking.
There were walkshops to explore the delights of Sydney, walking meetings to keep our minds and feet moving and speed dating to catch all the latest ideas and initiatives.
The conference focused on the theme of change and challenged participants to question, "Just how good is business as usual?" - warning that the biggest risk to a city becoming more walkable was “inaction from the people who knew what to do to improve it.” More than 150 presentations were made, centered around three key elements for delivering change; identifying the relevant catalysts for action; successful implementation strategies; and the leadership qualities needed to be effective.
Relevant catalysts for action
It was agreed that communities wanting to become more walkable, did not necessarily need to know what to do anymore (this is increasingly well documented - including soon on the new Walk21 website) as much as learn how to deliver the changes they required. It was asked: “Does the path choose the walker or do walkers choose the path?”
Transposing the streets, parks and other public spaces that matter into more vibrant, quirky and enticing destinations, until recently, only seemed possible where there were particularly visionary politicians, trusted planners or respected advocates. (And often all three to ensure an increase in walking is also sustained). However, creative activists (also known as tactical urbanists) have been identified as effective catalysts too, often empowered by an apparent official indifference that can entice them to take responsibility for ensuring their local neighborhoods are more walkable.
The activists approach, to re-imagine streets and public places with short term, low cost changes, are increasingly being adopted and legitimized by authorities in many countries. Those that slow and calm traffic; enable people; and, crucially, also have the support of business, have proved particularly successful and lasting. Reassuringly, when more walkable places are provided in this way, people are appreciative and seem to need little further encouragement to use them to walk more. Other cities can take confidence from the success of this approach as a practical catalyst for delivering lasting change.
Successful Implementation Strategies
Sydney has proven that when walking is recognized as a transport mode; its relevance measured as a percentage of trips; and sufficient walkers are listened to about the quality of their experience the results can justify the revision of existing policies; inform the development of appropriate new strategies; and ensure an additional and measurable relevant benefit can be secured from future infrastructure projects.
Focusing on the needs of people on foot first, and then integrating the operational considerations of public transport, can help all modes and improve efficiency. This is being used as a strategy in some cities in Asia to help address the growing concerns of air quality, obesity, congestion and economic sustainability, which are already a reality in many other parts of the world too.
Adapting similar strategies to suburban areas (not just the heart of cities, which are often the most walked areas) is important to ensure improvements are connected and can fully benefit all citizens equally. Sydney’s strategy, to ensure all of its citizens are within 10 minutes walk of everyday goods and services and 5 minutes walk of a quality green network is an admirable standard for others to consider as a successfully implementable strategy.
Effective leadership qualities
It is heartening to record that the presence of Walk21 as a global knowledge network and popular conference series has helped facilitate several important changes in Australia during previous visits. These include: support for the world’s first city walking strategy in Perth, WA and the establishment of the Ped/Bike/Trans professional body in Australia in 2001; and saw Sydney leading as the first city signature of the International Charter for Walking (which has since been signed by more than 5,000 other places) and the establishment of Victoria Walks as a very successful state delivery coordinating body in 2006
Opportunities post the 2014 Conference now include:
Further leadership by The Heart Foundation, to embrace the other peak health bodies whose members also benefit from the encouragement of more regular everyday walking (including those concerned with arthritis, diabetes, stroke, cancer, depression and asthma care). A common framework, for the support and evaluation of walking in Australia could be used as an accessible and affordable pathway to better mental and physical health whatever people’s ability or condition. Informed by the revolutionary operations of health insurance companies like Kaiser Permanente in USA a new model could be of international significance.
Engaging the recreational walking bodies, parks, trails and bush walkers in Australia, is potentially a quick win for governments and groups wishing to engage with people who already walk and easy to invite their support for others interested in walking more. In several other parts of the world providing for more recreational walking, particularly in urban areas where good quality connections have been made to key landscape and heritage features, has been the catalyst to help reach new people who haven’t particularly considered walking before and, over time, enticed them to walk more often for more everyday trips too.
Adopting a Vision Zero policy nationally for road safety would demonstrate real commitment to addressing the many preventable pedestrian road deaths which happen in Australia every year. Some private businesses in Australia are already leading on this and it is the Australian based International Road Assessment Programme charity which is providing the very practical tool to help bring about the changes needed locally to ensure the world overall becomes safer for people on foot.