“Everywhere we read about emerging crises: obesity, social isolation and mental health, the demonising of youth, dysfunctional urban places and spaces to name just a few. Walking is frequently offered up as part of the solution” ~ Andrew Stuck, Managing Consultant, Rethinking Cities
Andrew Stuck is a walking activist. Plings was intrigued by the idea of walking activism, so we cornered Andrew after a recent Talk the Walk event he organised on how to get young people more engaged in walking. We started by asking him what it means to be a walking activist.
“I guess I am one of those. I am passionate about the benefits of walking and strive in life and through my work to get more people out walking.”
Talk the Walk
What is Talk the Walk about?
“Talk the Walk brings professionals from the worlds of climate change, play, health, housing, public space design and transport together,” Andrew said.
“Talk the Walks are networking events for professionals working to promote more walking – I try to bring people from different disciplines together to see if we can get some connections and make the world a better place for those on foot.”
The most recent Talk the Walk focused on Childhood, Play and Independent Mobility, and explored how local neighbourhoods can be re-created so children, young people and families can play and move independently. Andrew explained what happened at the event.
“Most of the discussion was weighted towards transport and journey to schools although there was some discussion about public realm management and street design.
“The conflict between government policies to encourage walking on the one hand and yet offering parental choice of schools was one issue often touched upon.”
Can walking be a positive activity?
According to Andrew, walking is part of the solution to a myriad of modern problems faced by young people today. Surely these are good grounds to see walking as a positive activity? After all, most of walking that young people do takes place in their leisure time. And walking contributes to the Every Child Matters outcome of being healthy.
However, Andrew believes that seeing walking as a positive activity is a misnomer.
“I think this is a red herring,” he said. “The majority of young people have no option but to walk.
“Our society has accepted the car as the preferred means of transport and has planned our towns in such a way that those without access to a car are put at a disadvantage.”
Of course, positive activities are, by definition, organised activities. So has anyone tried organising a walking activity?
Andrew mentions Living Streets, who have created an urban street game to encourage 11-18 year olds to walk to school.
He also points out that outdoor activity groups, such as the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Scouts, and Guides, often include walking, although usually only as part of a wider programme of activities.
Other than that, “there is very little else out there.”
Why is this? What are the main barrier for organising walking events for young people?
Andrew answers briefly, and to the point. “Cars and inconsiderate adults.”
Given this problem, we asked him what local authorities can do to encourage walking as a positive activity.
“Improve access to public transport and devise ways in which they give back public realm to pedestrians from dominance by the car.”
Finally, we asked Andrew to describe an ideal walking activity for young people.
“Anything that offers adventure, exploration and discovery would be good, and anything that provides an opportunity of showing off,” he said.
“The old adage is ‘Get the girls interested and the boys will follow’.”