A research project about walking; using walking as a data collection method; and communicated back to the community by walking!
MAYlands WALKS was a weekend of walks and an exhibit, which took place in Maylands, Western Australia, over the first weekend of May, 2015, to communicate the results of a PhD research study on walking undertaken in the suburb over the previous years. The purpose of the PhD thesis is to investigate how walking connects people to the places they inhabit and to each other, and whether walking can engender conversations about spatial justice. I have facilitated community walkshops and walking interviews as methods of data collection, with participants aged 5 - 80, in order to investigate how walking can be used as a tool for community consultation. I believe walking conversations can be particularly useful as a consultation tool for strategic planning.
MAYlands WALKS consisted of an exhibit and three walks, which were based on three themes generated from the resaerch data. These themes are considered imperative to both encouraging walking and to explain how walking and walkability allow people to connect to their community and the spaces they live; accessibility, Interactions & ownership.
Accessibility highlights the importance of designated community spaces that are accessible and welcoming to all, should be human-scaled and allow for human activities such as walking. To reflect the theme 'accessibility' a community led walkability audit (entitled 'Somewhat Walkable Maylands' to reflect the suburbs Walkscore rating) was undertaken to highlight urgent issues regarding traffic, walkability and safety issues in the neighbourhood.
People interact with space in many ways, but for these interactions to be meaningful and ongoing, there needs to be a value placed on diverse layers of stories, histories, textures, nature (weather & weathering, animals, plants & trees, & the river in particular) which encourage creative, emotional and physical engagement. To explore the theme 'interactions' a walk titled 'Scratch and Sniff Maylands: a feast for the senses' was undertaken as a Sunday morning adventure, where we tasted local treats, discovered artists in back alleys, said good morning to church goers, and really stopped to smell the roses!
Ownership starts with space that welcomes a diversity of people, cultures and practices, where people feel comfortable to express their own identities and take action, with support from others, to shape the space in ways that benefit the community as a whole. The theme of 'ownership' was explored in a walk titled 'Residents, Resistance and the River', which highlighted places and things of value that had been saved by local residents, discussed stories of Nyoongar resistance in the area, and explored the suburb's connection to the river, and what local residents are doing to preserve that connection.
There was also a fourth walk, led by a research participant, and local resident; 'Maylands Sporting History' which uncovered the amazing stories of sporting feats in the suburb. The weekend of walks connected with Jane's Walk 2015.
How can walking connect people to the places they live, work and play? Walking is a fundamental practice for this process, as it encourages the conversations, connections and interactions, with people and the built, natural and cultural environment.
Using walking as a community based consultative practice for planning and promoting walkability makes sense; as a tool for focusing the design on these positive outcomes, while informing the design with data collected from the ground up, by conversations led by the people who the designs will ultimately benefit.
MAYlands WALKS was attended by over 150 people, and many went on two walks. All walks lasted 2 - 2.5 hours, with babies in prams, to people in their seventies, expectant mothers, and up to four dogs at a time joining in. The interactive exhibit highlighted photos, quotes, and themes from the walking research, and encouraged people to think about how they can postively influence walkability.