Making Equity Count in the Built Environment

Niiobli Armah, NAACP Health
Keith Benjamin, Safe Routes to School National Partnership

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership since its founding in 2005 has been a national advocate reaching down to the local level and equipping educators, parents, students, elected officials, engineers, health officials, city planners, businesses and community leaders in prioritizing the safety and health of every child no matter the income level, culture or color.  Holding high the banner of equity, the National Partnership is helping large and small communities all over the country recognize the need to have safe, walkable and accessible healthy environments. 

Twice as many low income kids walk or bike to school than affluent kids, and 65 percent of families below the poverty line do not own a car. Yet despite the great need for access to safe streets and physical activity, sidewalks in African American communities are 38 times more likely to be of low quality. This lack of access puts the health of our children at stake: children in neighborhoods that lack access to parks, playgrounds and recreation centers have 20 to 45 percent greater risk of becoming overweight. Our voice matters when it comes to having a say in how our communities are built.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s mission is to advance safe walking and bicycling to and from schools, and in daily life, to improve the health and well-being of America’s children and to foster the creation of livable, sustainable communities.  We believe if we prioritize our children we are prioritizing community.
This past fall we launched two national task forces that have brought together a diverse table of organizations that at their core believe in the equitable building and rebuilding of all communities.  The National Active Transportation Diversity Task Force comprises of organizations that are championing active transportation improvements to increase physical activity in underserved communities. 

The National Shared Use Task Force is composed of a broad array of shared use or joint use experts and practitioners from around the country who aim to elevate the critical issues of increasing access to safe places to play and activity in this country.

The NAACP understands and recognizes the need to lend its advocacy muscle to the work occurring in the built environment and active transportation movements. Efforts are needed to bridge the community of advocates working in the movement with civil rights advocates across the country. That work begins with translation -- terms such as “built environment” and “active transportation” do not resonate across all segments of the population.

The NAACP is proud to be an equity partner with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and a leader on both task forces. Along with over 40  other national and local organizations, we are working to redefine the traditional advocacy model.  Moving to the next level of work will be dependent upon building capacity at the community level. Additional investments will be needed to level the playing field and empower a new cadre of advocates.  This work will not be easy but will be necessary if we truly want to impact people in the environments where they live, work, and play.  

If you’re interested in joining the conversation about the built environment and why it matters from an equity perspective, join NAACP and the National Partnership for a free webinar on April 9 at 8pm est, “Making Equity Count in the Built Environment”  Will you join us?