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Example 1: A Windshield Tour to Assess Physical Activity Resources in Kansas City

The Latino Health for All Coalition works in Kansas City, Kansas, to address cardiovascular disease and diabetes by promoting healthy behaviors, including physical activity. Members of the coalition conducted a windshield tour in a key neighborhood (approximately 1 x 1.5 miles) to identify and assess seven types of physical activity resources, including parks, community centers, and walking trails. Before starting the windshield tour, the coalition conducted an internet search to identify physical activity resources in the community. This search involved a review of many websites such as the Yellow Pages and the County Parks and Recreation Department. The windshield tour enabled the coalition to: a) confirm the presence of physical activity resources found with the internet search, b) examine the condition of each resource and c) identify resources that were not found with the internet search.

Following the internet search, the coalition used free online mapping tools to review the neighborhood and establish the boundaries of the windshield tour. Maps were printed, and every road within the community was explored. This exploration involved mainly driving, with plenty of starting, stopping, pulling over, and driving certain streets more than once (especially busy streets). One member of the coalition used a digital voice recorder and camera to document features of each physical activity resource that were found.

While this was primarily a windshield tour, representatives from the coalition got out of the car to examine physical activity resources more closely. The windshield tour included walking part of a trail that was covered with graffiti and in poor condition. It also involved speaking with members of the community, such as Community Center staff, to learn more about physical activity resources. Finally, the windshield tour provided the opportunity to discover informal physical activity resources. For example, a soccer goal set up in an empty lot was found that had not been identified in the initial internet search.

The windshield tour took about 15 hours to conduct. After it was complete, the coalition developed a list of physical activity resources within the community. Key stakeholders of Latino health (i.e., local parents) rated the frequency with which they used each physical activity resource, and described their experiences using these resources. This permitted the coalition to consider the community’s perspective on the resources, and helped inform the Latino Health for All Coalition’s efforts to promote physical activity and health.

Example 2: Walking-Audit Tool Kit Promotes Civic Empowerment

The storefront Dotte Agency was established in 2015 to bring the power of architecture and design to bear on some of the problems, mainly around health, that confront underserved communities in Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.

Now the Dotte Agency has taken grant funding from the Health Forward Foundation and others and created a “walking audit” tool that is being used to facilitate communication between citizens and leaders about desired improvements to the built environment.

Shannon Criss, University of Kansas associate professor of architecture, said the walking audit tool kit grew out of conversations she and the other agency principals (fellow ArcD Professor Nils Gore and doctoral student Matt Kleinmann) had recently had with representatives of the Historic Northeast Midtown Association. HNMA is a Neighborhood Business Revitalization organization – a nonprofit entity that contracts with the city/county government to provide services to specific areas.

Dotte Agency and ArcD students have worked with the group before on other projects. HNMA obtained funding from Communities Creating Opportunities to help fund the walk audits.

“The neighborhood leaders identified their No. 1 issue as the negligence and/or lack of sidewalks, safety and streetlights,” Criss said. “They are frustrated with the city’s lack of capacity to address these needs and to engage residents.”

The connection to health is that walking is perhaps the most universal form of exercise and that barriers to it should be eliminated wherever possible.

So the participants began to think about how to help at least facilitate conversations between unified city/county government leaders and residents about the problems.

They came up with a tool kit that consists of a clipboard with maps, stickers and markers that can be used to create a standardized audit of the streetscapes in the neighborhood. Then they engaged not only adult members of the neighborhood association but also area middle school students to undertake block-by-block surveys that noted the condition of streets, sidewalks and lighting.

“This tool kit has enabled many conversations in the community to address the issues with those that live there and know their neighborhoods better than anyone else,” Criss said.

She said community members understand that city/county government may not have the money to fix every problem they document, but they hope their audits will help leaders to prioritize possible fixes.

After completing surveys in the neighborhood, Criss said, “We go back to the neighborhood association meetings and lead sessions where residents prioritize.”

“So the community says, ‘Well, this is where the School for the Blind is, and this is the most traveled space, so let's fix these sidewalks.’ We follow up and work with the city to try to help connect federal grants, such as the Safe Routes to Schools program, to support the neighborhood’s priority choices.”

The Dotte Agency leaders, she said, have contributed their expertise on identifying the potential costs of sidewalk improvements, based on city policies in place. This helps educate residents about their options as they make priority choices.

Having worked with city/county leaders on various projects in the past, Criss said, “We can serve to connect the neighborhood folks with civic leaders.” Further, she said, city planners and public works officials “appreciate it because they don't have the staffing capacity to do all this detail work.”

Ultimately, however, it is up to members of the city/county governing board to decide whether and how to improve the built environment.

Criss said the walk-audit process has been completed in five neighborhoods in northeast Kansas City, Kansas. The next step, she said, will be to bring the information to the attention of civic leaders and hope they respond appropriately.

And of course, the walk-audit procedures and tools can be replicated throughout the city, as desired.

She said some of the organizational partners, the HNMA and the Community Health Council, “have an IOBY campaign to raise funds for walk audits in other neighborhoods, and they're getting more youth involved. It just feels like it's empowering more people. They've seen this as a mechanism to get people behind this.”

Daniel J. Schober