Peter Balvanz is a recent graduate from the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the UNC Gilling’s School of Global Public Health.
From February through May students from the School of Public Health Jeff Quinn, Leilani Ogan, and Peter Balvanz partnered with youth from Caswell County to better understand what these young residents believed helped them stay healthy, and what gets in the way. Among the many factors mentioned, at the environmental level youth pointed out a fear of walking in certain areas, a barrier that limits this inexpensive and common form of physical activity. With this insight, public health students desired to know how widespread this fear is, and what other barriers to walking in town are present. In partnership with members of the Caswell community, public health students proposed to engage citizens in a walkability assessment of Yanceyville.
The assessment consists of an index for participants to rank the walkability of the town on a block by block basis, a survey for the general public, and photography to capture particularly problematic or attractive locations in town. The walkability index borrowed from aspects of both the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Pedestrian Environmental Quality Index and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Content was double checked by students from City and Regional Planning and citizens from Yanceyville. The main assessment asks participants to rank the safety of intersections, affect of traffic, state of sidewalks, aesthetics of the block, perceived safety, and access to entertainment on a scale of 1 to 5. This ranking system will help indicate which areas of town are more or less walkable compared to others, and can be used to inform future development.
Three youth from Caswell County paired up with three senior citizens to each rank one-third of the town on walkability. Youth were recruited from the Caswell County Partnership for Children with the assistance of Ms. Kwanna Byrd and seniors were sought from the Senior Center with the aid of Ms. Donna Pointer. The strategic partnership aimed to bring different perspectives into what defines an area as walkable, and presented an opportunity for inter-generational contact. Further, the collaboration aimed to build off the strengths of both supporting organizations and give citizens a role and voice in explaining the needs of their own community. Previous research has demonstrated that programs which encourage citizens to learn new skills for community improvement is associated with increased participation in community activities.
The group met at the Senior Center on July 8 for assessment instructions from Peter Balvanz. In addition to the six participants, representatives from the Caswell County Partnership for Children (Ms. Kwanna Byrd), the Senior Center (Ms. Donna Pointer), Community-Campus Partnership (Melvin McDermott III), and Town Manager David Parrish were on hand to learn more about the endeavor and offer their assistance. Mr. Parrish explained to the participants how the assessment could be used to inform use of finances for community development and agreed to be the in-town point-person for questions during the assessment. Both the Senior Center and the Partnership for Children offered shade, air-conditioning, and water to combat the recent heat wave. The initial meeting concluded with a mock assessment of a down-town block. The trial-run helped participants formulate a standard of ranking across groups.
The walkability assessment team plans to regroup and discuss findings mid-July, during which they will consider avenues to disseminate results and build off the project.