Q&A: Meet the Walk21 Movement
Walk21 aims to strengthen the walking movement by supporting and inspiring communities to change their policies and practices
By Mary Velan
Cities across the United States are investing in new policies and projects to increase amenities for residents looking to walk around the community more easily. Research suggests improving walkability is directly linked to economic growth, operational efficiency and residential well-being. Therefore, it is in the best interest of all community stakeholders to consider walkability projects at the local level.
What Is Walk21?
One campaign making walking a priority is Walk21, an international organization that aims to strengthen the walking movement by supporting and inspiring communities to change their policies and practices. In an interview with Gov1, Bronwen Thornton, the Development Director for Walk21, explained how the movement is tackling local walkability on a global scale by promoting the creation of environments where people choose to walk.
"Walk21 champions the development of healthy, sustainable and efficient communities where people choose to walk," Thornon told Gov1. "Through the network, conference series and the International Charter for Walking, Walk21 is realizing a vision to create communities where people want to and are able to walk as a way to travel, be healthy and relax."
The International Charter for Walking is a document based on discussions with experts worldwide focused on how to create a culture where people are less reliant on vehicles and better able to navigate on foot. The charter identifies best practices and policies communities have used to encourage walking, and provides a framework to help authorities refocus existing policies, activities and relationships to create a walker-friendly environment.
"We provide an international platform for inclusive discussion, development of best practices and delivery of new initiatives through the annual International Walking and Livability Communities Conference series, the International Charter for Walking, research projects and consultancy services," Thornton explained.
Why It MattersAccording to Thornton, many cities and neighborhoods have been transformed over many decades to accommodate motorized vehicle transportation at the expense of walkability. Modern urban planning has lost sight of the importance of walking as a primary mode of movement, and Walk21 aims to shine a light on walking and refocus resources toward rebuilding these capabilities.
"We need to deliberately design and provide for people who choose to walk, as well as create public space for public life in our cities," Thornton told Gov1. "Walking is an important contribution to the health of individuals, bringing both mental and physical health benefits for the individual and reduced health care costs for public health services."
In fact, when communities see their walkability diminish, it often has adverse effects on public health, safety and wellbeing.
"In the developing world, high levels of walking and the space to walk is being displaced with motorized traffic, resulting in very poor road safety outcomes for pedestrians," Thornton explained. "It is essential to maintain the importance of walking at the heart of all cities."
Thornton argues that walking provides individuals of all ages with a source of independent mobility. Walking is a source of freedom to be out in a community and connecting at a social level. Walking is also vital to local government operations when striving to increase efficiency.
On the community level, increased walkability can bring several perks including:
- Reduced air pollution
- Eased traffic congestion
- Improved road safety
- Increased mental and physical health
"For so many government departments, walking is a critical ingredient for meeting a range of objectives, whether it be reducing road building costs, utilizing public transport, reducing car parking, realizing better health outcomes, tourism or public security and supporting local economies," Thornton told Gov1.
What Is Happening?To ensure local communities understand the importance of walking and how to improve walkability, Walk21 offers Walkability Masterclasses, workshops, consultancy, on-street audit work and political engagement campaigns. The organization hosts a myriad of global events and workshops to teach decision makers how to change their communities for the better.
"We participate in European projects with a focus on walking, currently SWITCH looking at behavior change and FLOW to address congestion," Thornton explained. "Internationally we represent walking in a range of forums including the UN EST in Asia, held in Kathmandu this November, the International Transport Forum in Leipzig each year, support for the Ecomobility Alliance and input to the UN SDG’s, UN Habitat issues papers and in December at COP21 in Paris."
Furthermore, Walk21 has held an annual international conference since 2000, from which a number of projects have emerged. The International Charter for Walking was developed through the conference series and launched in Melbourne in 2006. The Making Walking Count project to investigate and benchmark data needs for walking has been run through Walk21 and just this year in Vienna the International Walking Data Standard was released.
"But the conference is more than these headlines, the knowledge sharing the happens between delegates continues to inspire us as we see people take home ideas and implement them in new ways and then come back and report to the conference on progress," Thornton told Gov1.
Walk21 has also been instrumental in inspiring and instigating the setup of national walking movements, such as Canada Walks in 2007 and the first German National Walking Congress in 2014.
"It is a key focus for us to ensure that our conference leaves a legacy for the host city as well as progress the international agenda, so these achievements include the Sydney Walking Action Plan, appointment of Toronto’s Urban Realm Officer and the new National Walking Strategy for Austria, following this year’s conference," Thornton explained.
Looking ahead, Walk21 has many projects planned for the upcoming year.
"Our conference will be in Hong Kong next October and it will be our first event in the Asian region," Thorton told Gov1. "This is a fantastic opportunity for dialogue between worlds where walking is a necessity and walking has become a choice."
In addition, Walk21 will be running a 10,000 signatures campaign with the International Charter for Walking to celebrate its 10 year anniversary. The organization has plans to launch a new series of collaborations and partnerships worldwide to further build the profile of walking on a global level. This includes partnerships with local organizations, governments and individuals interested in prioritizing more walking and better walking environments.