On December 5, 2012 a diverse group of organizations held a historic conference to help accelerate the emerging national movement to promote walking and walkability. Over 100 thought leaders and experts from prominent organizations attended representing public health, healthcare, community development, physical fitness, education, transportation and the environment. Organizers and attendees of the meeting framed the case for the multiple ‘co-benefits’ of walking and walkability and made a commitment to advance a national walking movement. Restoring walking to a valued community norm and making it a routine part of American culture was a charge that every organization endorsed. Building on the momentum of this December meeting, Kaiser Permanente funded the Every Body Walk! (EBW!) Collaborative that following January.

The new EBW! Collaborative has emerged as a companion partnership to the successful Every Body Walk! Campaign that Kaiser launched in 2010. The Every Body Walk! Campaign articulates the multiple benefits of walking and provides tools, techniques and materials that promote walking and argue for increasing the availability of safe, walking environments. The EBW! Collaborative engages diverse organizational partners interested in the walking movement and provides a platform for improving communications, increasing coordination and aligning program and promotional activities so that greater impact is possible to achieve our mutual goals.

Why Focus on Walking add Walkability?

Americans’ #1 favorite physical activity is walking, reports the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Walking also plays a fundamental role in our transportation system, with 11 percent of all trips made on foot, according to the US Department of Transportation. Neighborhoods that rank high for walkability (where walking is safe and convenient) enjoy a greater sense of community and higher property values note recent studies.

But the biggest benefit of walking is better health. Medical journals document that moderate physical activity like a daily stroll can cut rates of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and colon cancer by at least 40 percent, and save more than $100 billion a year in health care costs according to the American Public Health Association.

So why don’t Americans walk more? We take about half as many steps each day as Australians.

It’s not that we’re lazy. It’s because for the past 70 years we’ve designed our communities as if walking was an outmoded activity. In most places taking a stroll feels unsafe or unpleasant. Walking is a basic human instinct, but climbing into vehicles has become second nature to most Americans of all ages for going to work, getting to school, seeing friends, shopping, even exercise.

This automobile-dominated way of life has triggered some ominous consequences. Obesity and related diseases escalate. Social connection and community vitality decline. Greenhouse gases disrupt our climate. Families are forced to devote a high percentage of their income to own two or more cars, while those who can’t afford one miss out on economic and social opportunities. Many children, seniors and differently-abled people live under a form of house arrest.

Fortunately Americans are rediscovering walking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Americans walked six percent more in 2010 than in 2005, and the number of miles we drove declined 7.5 percent since 2004. The Millennial Generation (people born between 1980 and 2000), in particular, show a strong desire to live in communities where they can get around easily on foot. The public health and urban planning professions are now joining forces to promote health by creating more walkable communities, just as they did in the late 19th century to improve urban sanitation. Meanwhile grassroots efforts are growing in cities, suburbs and small towns to make communities safer and more comfortable for pedestrians.

America is getting back on its feet and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative is there to help.

Who is the EBW! Collaborative?

The EBW! Collaborative is a partnership of national, state and local organizations, federal agencies, businesses, and professional associations that are committed to developing and implementing collective approaches that can return walking to a valued, cultural norm for all Americans. The EBW! Collaborative is striving to create environments where more people walking in more walkable places.

To accomplish this, EBW! Collaborative partners are working to make walking and walkable places more visible and more desirable to all Americans. We are working together to bring about the behavioral and cultural changes needed to make walking the new normal. Collectively, they are promoting local walking programs, showcasing successful walking champions and pushing for actions that will result in increasing the number of safe, walking environments.

Our work focuses on two legs aimed to build a national walking movement – increase walking and improve walkability. Our 2020 vision is:

1. All Americans will walk enough to get a health benefit.
2. All Americans citizens demand walkable environments.
3. All 50 States have effective and visible champions and organizations that promote walking and advocate for walkable environments, comprising a powerful national network.
4. Every town, city and community type in the nation offers environments where walking is safe, easy and routine.

In year one, October 2013 – September 2014, the EBW! Collaborative work teams will set goals on how to accomplish this vision. Sample goals are provided below:

EBW! Collaborative Goals and Year One objectives are:

1. To increase the general public’s knowledge and awareness of the “co-benefits” and possibilities of walking and walkability.

Year One: Increase number of national articles, social media and blogs that promote and discuss walking programs and benefits, walking champions, and walkable places to 10 per month.

2. To increase citizen demand for environments that makes walking safe and easy.

Year One: Develop baseline understanding of understanding of public perceptions, audiences and attitudes toward walking and walkability.

3. To increase the number of local, regional, state and federal advocacy efforts that are creating walkable places.

Year One: Catalog and coordinate existing local development work being implemented by America Walks, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Alliance for Biking and Walking / Advocacy Advance, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Transportation for America, etc and prioritize a group of states and locations for targeted, coordinated local development work; help them secure resources to conduct the work.

4. To increase the number of environments where walking is safe and easy.

Year One: Develop a group of at least 20 local, regional and state elected and appointed officials, and another 20 business and economic development leaders that will publicly champion walkability.

EBW! Collaborative Structure:

The EBW Collaborative has two co-chairs, and is organized into a Coordinating Committee with three standing workgroups. Special work groups are developed as needed.

The Coordinating Committee focuses on developing, connecting and activating national and local organizations and collaborative partnerships towards shared objectives. This committee provides coordination, leadership and recruitment for the Collaborative. They are responsible for directing the Collaborative backbone functions including guiding vision and strategy; supporting aligned activities; mobilizing funding; establishing shared measurement and building public will.

This Committee provides the overall guidance for the collaborative, while the collective responses of the collaborative will be accomplished through three standing workgroups. Described below, these include: Marketing and Communications, Local and Organizational Action, and Research and Evaluation.

In addition to the three workgroups, the Coordinating Committee, its Chairs, and the backbone organization’s staff will identify and respond to special opportunities by creating ad hoc work teams as needed. These special projects will work to serve the goals of the Collaborative in areas of special interest that engage in high impact events or other possibilities for significant visibility for walking, walking champions and walkable places. Such efforts have or may include the Walking Summit, activities related to the Surgeon General’s proposed Call to Action on Walking, opportunities to build synergy with the National Physical Activity Plan, creating a special federally recognized National Walking Month, public polling, and international issues.

The Marketing and Communication Workgroup focuses on increasing the national visibility for walking, building public support for walking, and engaging champions for walking and walkability. Short-term, they are working with the EBW! Collaborative partners to promote the Walking Summit and Surgeon General’s proposed Call to Action Report.

Within the first year and as resources are available, this workgroup will develop a research based communication framework for walking messages with different target audiences. Once that framework is solidified, the workgroup will develop multi-faceted and motivational marketing strategies using social media, earned media, public service announcements, ads, and celebrities to promote walking and great places to walk.

The Local and Organizational Action Workgroup works with national organizations, and key local advocacy networks, to increase the quantity of local action initiatives and networks, increasing the number of organizations that support walking initiatives and improving the connections and coordination between existing efforts. These increases target both development of social support type walking programs and organizing walking advocacy networks within communities, regions and States.

Year One: Catalog and coordinate existing local development work being implemented by America Walks, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Alliance for Biking and Walking / Advocacy Advance, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Transportation for America, etc and prioritize a group of States and locations for targeted, coordinated local development work; help them secure resources to conduct the work.

The Research/Evaluation Workgroup focuses on assisting the EBW! Collaborative in developing and collecting shared indicators for the collective work, helps with EBW! Collaborative developmental evaluation needs, helps translate existing evidence into usable information for action and identifies knowledge gaps for future research that has the potential to substantially change public knowledge and attitudes toward walking and walkability.

Short-term, the Research Workgroup will assist the EBW! Collaborative in identifying shared, feasible metrics for tracking progress and understanding it’s collective impact. This workgroup will also work to inform the national poll that Kaiser Permanente is launching.

 Walking Revolution, Jay WalJasper.