Over the summer I saw several notices about "walks with the mayor" in two different communities. While these efforts seem to focus on improving the health of people living in those areas by encouraging walking, I can see how these walks also have the potential to help build a strong community. (Photo credit: Mary R. Vogt on morguefile.com)
Walking the streets of your city or village can help you better see those little things that can be improved – things you would never notice in a car. It might be a section of uneven sidewalk that could be simply fixed with some "mud-jacking" of the slabs. It might be a section of walk where bushes have overgrown the path or sidewalk and need to be trimmed. Perhaps walkers might discover areas where a few well-placed trash receptacles could deter littering. On the other hand, walking also helps people discover those little things that make the town interesting and a great place to live. Someone might have planted a beautiful flower garden along the public sidewalk. Walkers might also discover the city has installed a water fountain in a handy location – the type that also has a place for dogs to get their own drink. There could be a stretch of street where the city has planted a nice selection of trees that provide shade.
If someone with a disability is on the walk, accessibility can also become very apparent. Many people are not aware of impediments to mobility that might be present in a community until they are walking with someone who cannot enjoy the same access because of barriers such as curbs. People might discover the access they took for granted to specific destinations such as parks, public places, or areas offering public services is limited due to barriers for people with disabilities.
The other benefit of a "Mayor's walk" is that it gives everyone time to talk and get to know each other better. People can find out they share common friends, interests, or concerns. Many times community topics not necessarily related to pedestrian or transportation facilities can be talked about. Maybe someone always wanted to start a book club at the local library but never knew if anyone would be interested and through a discussion on the walk realized several others have been wanting the same thing.
These are just a few of the positive outcomes that can be discovered by taking some time to organize and host a walk in a community. It would be great to hear from anyone out there who has either held a walk like this or attended one in their community. How difficult was it to arrange, what was the attendance and interest level, and what benefits did people discover from participating? And for those of you from colder climates who are thinking these walks can only be done during the warmer months, you can check out the City of Elgin's Facebook post indicating their plan to host them in an indoor facility: