Call for Syllabi and Resources on “Walkability Assessments”


On January 22, 2017 I sent out a request to the Society for Medical Anthropology email list asking for syllabi and assessment tools for a “walkability study” my spring capstone class is conducting with the City of Edmonds as part of the Sustainable Cities Program at WWU.

Dear Colleagues, Next quarter my senior capstone class is partnering with a small town to conduct an assessment of walkability and analysis of place.  I am reviewing syllabi and tools for the assessment and would like to review any syllabi or tools you have previously used.  I’m happy to compile the comments and repost them.

I received several thoughtful responses, especially in regards to the term “walkability”, a term my partnering organization uses and which my class will critique as part of the study.  The following are all of the suggestions and responses received to date (my brief comments are in green):

  1. I haven’t taught a course on this, but I currently work as a program director on a community health social determinants grant, and one arm of it is Complete Streets work with our local planning agency. What kinds of tools are you looking for? They do walk audits, walking school buses, way finding signage, and Complete Streets advocacy. I have documentation about these kinds of initiatives, if that would be helpful.  Sean: I’m reviewing the literature/tools and certainly need a reminder from my public health coursework from ages ago.  I’m also meeting with my partner to discuss specifics… but anything you can share would be useful.
  2. I haven’t done measures of walkability myself as my own research is on the architectural design process, but University of Minnesota and Cornell have excellent resources through their Design of Health website. You might also look at the tools and measures section of the Active Living Research website. If it’s not too much trouble, I’d love to know how your syllabus works out.  Sean: I’ll be sure to post an update! Thanks for the links!

  3. I’ve used ELMO (http://getelmo.org/about/), the Carter Center’s data collection and analysis system, to assess neighborhood quality in Vietnam. For which, I adapted the Neighborhood Inventory for Environmental Typology; it may not get you what you want re walkability, as the focus is more on physical and social disorder, but there are questions relating to neighborhood configuration. ELMO is generally good for use in low-resource settings as you can fill out survey questions offline and upload once WiFi is availability; you can upload photos and voice recordings, too.  Kobo Toolkit is another option (http://www.kobotoolbox.org/). Both are free. RedCap and CommCare are other (paid) options, which may be useful depending on the scope of the project. 

    When I was mapping neighborhoods in VN, I found using something like SportsTracker (which logs spatial activity automatically) to be very helpful in discerning where specifically my research assistants and I were walking. Also, Michael Kramer (Emory) and Candice Odgers (Duke) have developed really cool m-/e- methods looking at walkability/place.  Sean: Excellent! Thank you! I’ll certainly check up on these projects.

  4. I’ve had individual students do this in regards to rollability for class projects. Most of your resources will be online. Don’t miss the City Planning literature. But, before you of anything else, you might want a more inclusive term than “walkability.” I’m sure you  don’t mean to exclude babies, and disabled people who don’t walk, but it sounds that way.  Sean: I like that term – rollability. Critique of the walkability term is part of the class, but why wait until then? Rollability is a great term and I’ll adopt it.  

  5. Sure hope that in considering walkability you will be including the “walking” that people who use wheelchairs, power scooters, canes & crutches do.  Sean: For sure! I think this will become a focus. 
  6. Hi Sean, I was thinking about “seasonable” walkability, especially in regions where there is snow and ice. Many sidewalks/walkways etc. are difficult to navigate during the winter. ( they are poorly maintained by the owners, the public works dept. lack of ordinances requiring owners to remove snow/ice, poor drainage, sidewalks that slope up/down, sidewalks near buildings with steep roofs, whereby snow/ice frequently slides off the roofs onto the sidewalks, and even a temporal quality, i.e. the time/times of day or the frequency the sidewalks  are cleared of snow/ice.   Sean:  Great comments… especially out here where we have some much rain and often, ice.

  7. Before I retired, there were two class exercises that I used to help develop observational skills — one field based, the other entirely in the classroom.

    One: Possibly the worst pseudo-anthropology film every produced was Mondo Cane. A short way into the film, which you will find both fascinating and repelling to watch, the viewer is dropped into Highland New Guinea for a highly edited view of a pig fest. The music is slow and dolorous; the narration is about hunger, starvation, lack of outside contact, etc. 

    I dubbed the 3-minute segment a couple of times onto a blank tape. (I retired 18 years ago, so the technology I used is obsolete.) In class, I asked the students to count off by 6 so that they knew that group assignment was random. Each group was then assigned a viewing task and told to stay in place. The segment was shown with the sound OFF. Students were then asked to assemble by viewing task and develop a short presentation for the entire class on their particular task. They always did an excellent job.

    I then showed the segment with the sound ON. Someone in class will invariably insist that the narration is correct and what they all saw was wrong. He (it’s always a male) will be convinced by the others that their eyes were correct, but that the narration would probably have swayed them all if they had first seen the segment with sound. 

    There will probably be at least one student in class who will comment on the “film looping” to show the same pig-killing scene again. You will need to comment that the actual cooking is not shown at all. There are a great many comments that can go with this 3-minute bit of film.

    They will come away from it knowing that they need to look beyond what they hear. 

    I’m attaching a PDF of the 6 viewing tasks and of the narration of the segment, which I always showed on screen at the end so that we could go through it line-by-line to see how it directed the viewer. (In my time, there was always an overhead projector in the classroom, and the 4 pages were shown as overheads. I also always had an overhead on the screen as students entered the classroom. I’m attaching the one that I used on the day of this exercise.)

    Two: Only about 10 miles from the campus where I taught, there was a failed railroad town (Nord, California). The station site was abandoned, with just stone and concrete left in the weeds. There was a very small gas station/general store. There was a two-room K-8 school. There were a few houses in the 4 street by 4 street remains (with farms beyond).

    On a Saturday, students carpooled to the town with the instructions to spend the morning gathering as much information as they could about it WITHOUT ASKING anyone a verbal question. They could answer questions about why they were strangers in town, but could only observe with all their senses: hearing, touch, smell, etc. A de-briefing afterwards found that they could gain a great sense of the place, its history, its people by careful observation. 

    The first time I used this lesson, an upper-elementary age boy found out why the students were there and “adopted” a small group to “show and tell” them about the community. He did things like point to the cornerstone of the old rail station (with 1896 carved into it) and told them that the station was built in 1912. The students, of course, listened, but didn’t look. This lead to interesting class discussion on the virtues of observation. The same boy then lay in wait for the class on succeeding years with a gradually more developed misinformation tour. I missed his input when he left for Stanford on a full scholarship. I’ve since lost contact with him. 

    I hope that you enjoy these two thoughts for preparing your students for field research. (PDF Attachment: MondoCane)

     Sean:  Thank you for the thoughtful comments! I’ll certainly consider these!

  8. As you continue this study, I would encourage you to also review the mapping methods that Darin Jensen at Berkeley is exploring. They are described here: http://matrix.berkeley.edu/research/new-world-mapping. His project is also available here: http://missionpossiblesf.org/

    By analyzing space from several perspectives, ranging from noise and gang violence to water and airways, Jensen brings together several compelling elements that enliven the city, which are not always well represented in a walkability study.  Sean:  Excellent resources, thank you!

  9. I saw this in our faculty newsletter and thought of your query:
    Health Sciences 424/890: Strategic Applications of GIS in Public Health
    This course was taught as a new partnership with the City of North Vancouver in Fall 2016. To feed into the City’s new Pedestrian Plan, FHS student teams used GIS to generate recommendations on how to improve walkability and get more people walking. Students presented posters to city staff and elected of cials at City Hall in North Vancouver on Dec 2, 2016.
    If you are not versed in GIS, maybe it’s not useful. I think I know the colleague who did this though, and if you want, I”ll ask her for the syllabus.  Sean: Sure, I would certainly like to review the syllabus!
  10. I’m just a we lass anthropologically. However I make part of my living renting properties and I know Redfin uses https://www.walkscore.com/ for that function. Sean: Thanks! Thats a great resource!
  11. I teach two classes where we do projects around walkability. The first is a GIS and Public Health course, where the final assignment changes each semester but has often been run in partnership with a city. I also attached a syllabus for my other course, Health and the Built Environment, where we do assignments including photovoice, built environment audits, etc. Again in this class I take a different focus each year – here are some news stories on what we’ve done in past years in case you’re interested: https://www.sfu.ca/fhs/news-events/news/year/2015/Undergraduates_Raise_Awareness_on_Transit_Referendum.html  and also here: https://www.sfu.ca/fhs/news-events/news/year/2015/health-sciences-students-showcase-their-projects-at-vancouver-ci.html 
    Syllabus:  HSCI403
    Hope these are some help! Sean:  This is great! Thanks for the link and the syllabus form your colleague!

I’ll be sure to update my page as I get more info and develop the partnered research course. I also emailed the DRIG: Disability Interest Research Group as this is certainly an opportunity for me to learn about and incorporate perspectives on abilities, access and place. Thanks, everyone for your comments and suggestions! Feel free to email be at sean.bruna@wwu.edu if you have others.