“Alberta Walkability Roadshow” research missed the big picture and won’t get people to walk more
We have all heard that walking is good for us for a whole bunch of reasons. And in case you have not heard why walking is the best acitvity for your health, then check out one of my favourite presentations on why you need to walk more by Doc Mike Evans. The bigger question is why do people walk? Or better still, why don’t people walk, or exercise, more? Active living, or incorporating activity into your every day, is the goal of all health advocates. The active living message has a hard time competing with our multi-tasking car culture. Living in an active way is a no brainer as far as health goes, but for most people, driving to and getting cheap stuff at Costco or Walmart, is a bigger priority than the health benefits of walking to the local store.
So, what’s a health advocate to do? How do we get people to focus in on their health while they are rushing from one activity to the next, eating prepared meals, sometimes while driving?
In my 20 years of leading people on thousands of urban and wilderness walks in Calgary and Alberta, writing guidebooks on urban walking and biking in Calgary, promoting active living through through presentations, and through my magazine and newspaper articles, I have learned why people walk.
Why people walk
The majority of people who choose to walk, to be active daily, do so for these reasons:
1. For fitness and health
2. For friendship (mostly women)
3. To attain a goal or reach a destination (mostly men)
The Alberta Walkability Roadshow
project launched by Alberta Health Services in 2011, is, on the surface, admirable. Their goal is to help Albertans integrate activity into their day-to-day lives; a fantastic idea. The problem with their research is that the initiative leads to a lot of long term, built environment talk as a way to get people to walk. There is a lot of focus on making it nicer for people to walk, on signage for walkers, infrastructure to encourage walking, and having useful things for people to walk to in their communities. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that all of this would be wonderful. I would love all communities in Canada to be set up for walkers and cyclists. I would love it if more people would walk for transportation as I do everyday in Calgary. However, this is not a reasonable, immediate goal for most of Canada. With the exception of high density cities like Vancouver and Montreal, most communities are being built or redesigned for cars. Small towns and cities across Canada are losing their main street life due to the Walmart fungus. Walmart is always on the outskirts of communities and once it gets a hold, all other services, like the supermarkets, the liquor store, the McDonalds, the Tim Horton’s, follow.
The Walmart phenomenon: my on foot research in Woodstock, New Brunswick
My research on this Walmart phenomenom was done in Woodstock, the oldest town in the province of New Brunswick. I grew up in Woodstock, a town of 5000 people, and now my family and I spend our summers there. The little town situated along the Saint John River, is historic and picturesque. Unfortunately the town and the province moved ALL services out the downtown core. And I do blame the town and province for the death of Woodstock’s downtown core since it was the shortsightedness of the town that allowed Walmart to locate on the TransCanada Highway, away from all neighbourhoods. The province then moved the liquor store out to be close to Walmart. The supermarkets, fast food outlets and movie theatre are also nearby. The location of these services means that most people need to drive to get groceries. And since cheap food is a priority pretty much everywhere nowadays, including Woodstock, the McDonald’s drive-through always has a line up at lunch.The built environment is set in Woodstock and in many small towns across Canada and it is not set up for active transport.
Get people walking right now: A Grassroots Initiative
In order to get people to start walking today, right now, there needs to be more grassroots initiatives in all villages, towns and cities across Canada.There needs to be a lot less talk of built environment, walkable communities and walking for transportation and a lot more encouragement for people to just walk for recreation, for fun and for fitness. And once people start enjoying more walking, get hooked on healthy behaviours, then perhaps these people will begin to recognize the value in having a walkable community.
How to get people to WALK MORE
Through my hands on, grassroots workshops, I help recreation departments in all cities and towns create walking programs and that easy to operate, and inexpensive. The goal? Get community members walking, right now!
1. Start of “Walking for Fitness” program with walking guides. Research and create a variety of routes in and around the town or city. Provide route maps!
2. Make it social and fun! Create a variety of walks to attract a diverse group; “Coffee shop hikes” or “Family Treks“
3. Provide a goal or add some brainwork! Create a program called “Hiking Training” to attract the goal oriented people to the group. Work towards the goal of doing longer hikes and add these hikes to the ongoing walking program. For example, in Woodstock , NB, the town walks could build fitness for the upcoming trek to Mount Carleton.
4. Create walking maps! Many people may like to head out on walks independently.
Creating a walking culture
Or better yet, create a culture of self-propelled living! Waiting for a community to become more walkable, to have the infrastructure to make walking or cycling pleasant and easy, is not a short term goal for most communities. And most communities need to make a change now, get people moving now, in order to combat the health decline of its citizens. It is critical that more people see the value in walking, the benefits to active living. Once they are hooked on an active lifestyle, then and only then will they start to make a push for more walkable communities. A walking culture is created when people just start walking more. Get out there!!