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.
Earlier this month three youth from Caswell County were partnered with senior citizens to assess the walkability of Yanceyville, the county seat. The need for an assessment spawned from results of earlier work with youth who had pointed out barriers in town that prevent them from walking, one of the most common forms of physical activity. One youth partnered with one senior to rank one-third of the town’s walkability based on categories including: traffic, safety, intersections, activities, sidewalks, and aesthetics. These categories were ranked on a scale from 1 (very poor) to 5 (very good). In addition to providing town leaders with information that could inform future spending on development, the inter-generational collaborative project aimed to facilitate the sharing of perspectives and potentially build relationships in the community.
Upon completion of the project, the collective rankings of Yanceyville placed the town at average walkability with a score of 3.3 out of 5. This score is comparable – and slightly higher – than the average of online rankings determined at walkabilityscore.com, which gave the town a score of 54 of 100 possible points. Seniors and youth scores highlighted the attractiveness and the general feeling of safety in most parts of the town. Although in previous interactions youth noted a few specific areas in town where they felt unsafe, the vast majority of town was perceived to be very safe. Scores of overall walkability in Yanceyville were reduced in the categories of sidewalks and intersections. For numerous blocks, the absence of sidewalks and lack of pedestrian safety guides at intersections received low rankings. The assessment team noted, however, that although many blocks have no sidewalks, the minimal traffic allows for a safe feeling when walking. On the contrary, others mentioned their hesitance to walk in the grass on another person’s property.
The inter-generational collaboration proved to be an important aspect of this project. At the introductory meeting both youth and seniors were hesitant to fully engage with the other and interaction was minimal and businesslike, at most. The dynamic had changed drastically by the time of the post-assessment debriefing. Youth and seniors chattered across each other and when asked about the work, one youth commented, “I never knew older people could be so much fun.” Seniors in the group acknowledged their own preconceived notions of youth, and were pleasantly surprised by well-dressed, well-spoken and engaging young individuals. By the end of our debriefing one youth-senior dyad were plotting their next walk together while others talked about their appreciation for learning about the alternative perspectives of the other. Another dyad reflected that by walking down roads on which they had never previously stepped, they became aware of sights in town they had not previously seen, and gained a new knowledge of the area. Sylvia Banks, one senior involved in the assessment, commented on the project:
“The walkability project has been a rewarding experience for me. I love to walk. This gave me the chance to see what Yanceyville had to offer as a small, quiet town to its citizens and visitors. I felt safe during my walks. My partner was a young lady and we enjoyed walking, laughing, talking and sharing ideas. Yanceyville is a very good place to retire, live, raise a family and visit. I am waiting and hope to be involved in the next phase of this project.”
Towards the conclusion of the walkability debriefing seniors and youth alike voiced a desire for further inter-generational interaction. Through the long assessment walk, seniors came to appreciate the opportunity to share their life experiences and learn the youth perspective, and youth enjoyed sharing stories as well. Before departing the collective group brainstormed projects or ways that could build off of the recently build relationships. Collective project ideas included: walking clubs, working with crafts, community gardens, and outings together for activities such as bowling. Participants and their affiliated organizations are currently considering ways to continue the collective interaction.
The walkability assessment team will present the results of their work to city council during the monthly meeting this coming Tuesday, and provide council members with their final written report including maps with blocks color coded according to walkability.