As we move through our 6-part series on walking and walkability this month we focus on creating social capital through walking and designing communities that promote walking. It has been found that residents living in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods are more likely to know their neighbors, to participate politically, to trust others, and to be involved socially.
Walkable communities and communities where more people walk offer opportunities for personal interaction and social involvement. In these communities, people can walk with family members or friends, stop to chat with neighbors while walking their dog, walk to a local store or bus stop with a friend, meet regularly for a group walk, or participate in a “walking meeting” with colleagues. These interactions help strengthen the personal bonds that bring people and communities together, creating more social cohesion and social capital.
Social capital is a measure of an individual’s or group’s networks, personal connections, and community involvement, which brings benefits such as reduced isolation, career connections, and neighborhood safety. A key finding from a survey of two New Hampshire Communities found that higher levels of social capital are found in areas that are perceived to be more walkable, as measured by the number of places people can walk to in their community.
So what makes residents perceive their own community as walkable? The top 3 most commonly identified concerns were having more and better-quality sidewalks, having well-lit and safe areas to walk, and having actual locations to visit. Creating or modifying environments to make it easier for people to walk is a strategy that not only helps increase physical activity, but can makes our communities better places to live. Neighborhoods with high pedestrian activity build social cohesion and create “eyes on the street” to discourage crime.
Whether in large cities or small towns, walkability isn’t a secondary consideration — it’s essential to the economic well-being of communities and the personal well-being of their residents. Get started today by visiting AmericaWalks and learn how walking can make your community safer and healthier!