Walk21 IV 2003. Portland, Oregon.
Health, Equity & Environment,
The Portland Marriott Downtown, 1401 SW Naito Parkway
Like the fish not knowing it swims in water, we take walking for granted.
But after decades of being ignored, walking is at last gaining recognition as an activity and a mode of transport fundamental to our personal health and the health and sustainability of our communities.
Walk21-IV: Health, Equity & Environment brought together activists, practitioners, decision makers and academics in public health, transportation, and community planning to help shift the global perception of walking and pedestrians.
Delegates explored how walking is integrated into our infrastructure, our institutions, and our daily lives. Three themes, Health, Equity and Environment, were woven together throughout the conference.
A major focus of the Fourth International Conference on Walking was the emerging connection between walking, public health, and community design. In the U.S., physical inactivity threatens to overtake tobacco use as the number one contributing factor in preventable chronic illness and death. Studies are beginning to show links between sprawling suburban development and decreased levels of physical activity. What can be learned from the international community about research and policy interventions? How can we use this opportunity to further leverage this connection and develop the interdisciplinary tools we need?
Walking is the glue of our urban transportation structures, yet it generates no major revenue stream and is too often relegated to the status of an "alternative" mode. Pedestrians get no respect, whether it's on the street or at the table where decisions are made. Even the word "pedestrian" (in English) has a derogatory connation. What are the barriers ¬ institutional, cultural, social, financial ¬ to internalizing the importance of walking? How have these barriers been addressed in other parts of the world, and in Portland?
For half a century the United States has led the world in planning the built environment for the automobile. Now that we've sold much of the world on the idea, we recognize we may have gone too far.