featured community spotlights
The Active Seattle partnership seeks to create walkable neighborhoods in five communities within Seattle. The partnership has a vision for Seattle in which walking to school is the norm and the streets are safe for pedestrians of all ages.
Active Seattle wrote several successful grant proposals, including three to implement Safe Routes to School programs with walking school buses and street improvements, and is expanding the program to include a statewide Safe Routes to School clearinghouse. Active Seattle also conducted neighborhood walking audits, identified problem sidewalk areas which were repaired and enhanced by the Seattle Department of Transportation, developed a walk-to-shop initiative to allow Delridge residents to walk with shopping carts to their homes, and provided active living education to physicians in low-income health clinics through a series of orientations for medical providers. In addition, the partnership successfully advocated for $875,000 in the mayor's 2006 budget for sidewalk construction and $1.8 million for supplemental crosswalk and sidewalk improvements. Ideas from the partnership are finding their way into statewide and countywide active community environments projects funded by the Steps to a Healthier US program. Prior to receiving an Active Living by Design grant, Feet first was an all-volunteer organization. Since then, the organization has grown to a staff of four and is a significant voice and active participant in city leadership toward urban sustainability.
Active Seattle has a strong core partnership led by Feet first, a non-profit pedestrian advocacy organization, with significant contributions from the Department of Public Health Seattle and King County, and the Seattle Department of Transportation. Other partners include Seattle Public Schools, Puget Sound Neighborhood Health Centers, Cascade Bicycle Club, the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Seattle, City Council, Mayor Greg Nickels, and the University of Washington.
Amina, an immigrant from Ethiopia, speaks five languages and ran a restaurant in her home country prior to seeking asylum in the United States. She lives in subsidized housing for immigrants in Seattle's Central District, a densely populated and diverse residential neighborhood adjacent to downtown. The area's multiple-lane urban arterial roads create significant barriers for pedestrians and are specially hazardous to the neighborhood's children.
As a result of neighborhood audits and outreach work conducted by Active Seattle partners, Amina's son's school, Gatzert Elementary, was selected as one of ten schools for a pilot Safe Routes to School initiative. The project has heightened the school community's awareness and interest in incorporating physical activity into daily life and has created new opportunities for leadership. In the first year, 25% more children walked to Gatzert Elementary, despite a decline at neighboring schools. Parents from Ethiopia, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Somalia see walking as a very natural activity, and they have found an opportunity to provide leadership in the school community without needing to be fluent in English or active in a classroom. Amina, who had no previous experience volunteering at school, now leads one of Gatzert's four walking school buses and uses her language skills and community ties to get other families involved in Safe Routes to School. Her daily visits to the school have opened the door to further involvement in her son's education, and she often will extend her hours on campus to help in the classroom or on the playground. Amina and the Walking School Bus Program at Gatzert were 2006 recipients of the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission "Safety Superstar" award for exceptional efforts in increasing pedestrian safety.
Seattle has steep hills that can make active transportation challenging, but the natural beauty and mild climate make physical activity enjoyable. The city is known for historically-strong citizen participation in its diverse neighborhoods, but involvement in planning and design often fails to engage lower-income people and ethnic minorities. The five neighborhoods that define the Active Seattle project area (Delridge, Central District, Beacon Hill, Lake City, and North Aurora) include many foreign-born residents and low-income families with poverty rates ranging from 5% to 50%. Many of the city's residents are recent immigrants and often are culturally and linguistically isolated from the mainstream society. These barriers make communicating active living and health messages particularly difficult.
Seattle is a progressive community that prioritizes quality of life. In addition, the Seattle Department of Transportation encourages neighborhood involvement to determine the best traffic calming measures throughout the city. The city has chosen to limit roadway expansion and the street grid layout favors walkability, but statewide tax concerns have eroded the Seattle Department of Transportation funding base. Though neighborhoods regularly score pedestrian amenities high on their list of priorities, funding has not materialized to keep pace with demand. With fundraising underway for several major maintenance and highway replacement projects, the city has discovered that responding to citizen requests for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure is an essential component of any successful future transportation funding package.