Making walking and bicycling safe and fun for children has a huge impact on the overall quality of life and health of a community. This is the goal for Safe Routes to School (SRTS), a national effort that looks at localized solutions that make biking and walking to school safer for kids. The solutions range from the most simple, such as buddy systems and walking to school buses to innovative, such as the complete reworking of infrastructure. Solutions often reflect the needs, values, and capacity of a community.
Recently, the Northwest Area Community in Indianapolis completed their SRTS plan. Through a series of surveys and mapping workshops with students, many new perspectives were revealed about the community from a child’s eye view.
For example, for many students, the best part of walking to school was time spent with friends and family. Another positive aspect of walking was going by and/or stopping in at neighborhood destinations, especially parks. On the flip side, students noted loose and stray dogs were a common concern that made walking to school stressful.
Encountering, or the possibility of encountering, threatening and scary people was also ranked highly by students as a negative, followed by navigating dangerous street crossings and interactions with cars. (Note: The schools in this survey did not have a crossing guard on staff.) Crumbling sidewalks and more than 70 vacant lots and buildings within a 3 block radius of one school, also negatively impacted the students.
It is these types of issues that lead communities to develop interesting and strategic solutions, such as working with IMPD to “clean-up” a park that had been identified several times as “a scary” place, not only by students in this project, but also by other youth-focused forums in the neighborhood. Art processes also became a key component of how to address these issues and began first by cleaning up and painting a simple design on the old fire station across the street from the same “problem child” park.
Community activists continued to take matters into their own hands, looking for new and innovative ways to make this area safer for kids. LaShawnda Crowe Storm, Spirit & Place’s very own community engagement director, with her creative compeer Phyllis Viola Boyd, activist and executive director of Groundwork Indy, have become one of 80 finalists from among 1400 applicants (and the only one in Indiana) competing for a grant from ArtPlace America’s National Creative Placemaking Fund. Their application for PROJECT RECLAIM is focused on using art to take back this corridor into one that is safe for children.
So, think a SRTS effort may be beneficial to your community? Check out the report Creating Healthier Generations: A Look at 10 Years of the Federal Safe Routes to School Program for tips and information exploring how this effort can impact your community.