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How to Create Walkability Leaders

A partnership of AARP and America Walks, state-based 'Walking Colleges' are building capacity to create more walkable, equitable communities

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to walking as a way to safely get around while also social distancing. 

Plan on Walking!

Website banner for the America Walks State Walking College Program

From America Walks

The opening image of the America Walks State Walking College web page. Click on the photo for information about how to apply to the 2022 State Walking College program. Don't delay. Applications are due by March 31.

Of the 33 action plans created by the State Walking College's inaugural class, we selected two examples from each state. The plans vary a bit in structure. All can inspire similar planning and walkability goals for other communities.


La Mesa: "Envisioning an Urban Trail to Enhance the Health and Vibrancy of a Neighborhood"

Sausalito and Marin City: "Uniting Once-Segregated School Communities by Fostering a Shared Space for Walking, Cycling and Connecting"


Atlanta: "Creating a Safe Commuter Corridor for Pedestrians"

Augusta: "Building a Multipurpose Trail to Enhance the Community’s Health and Well-Being"


Sioux Falls: "Advancing Active Transportation in an Underserved Neighborhood"

Wanblee: "Improving Walkability and Bikeability in a Remote Native American Community"

Yet too many communities are essentially unwalkable due to nonexistent or poor sidewalk conditions, ill-timed crosswalk signals, or long distances between residential and business districts. 

Older adults represent a disproportionate number of pedestrian fatalities, and unsafe walking conditions are particularly pronounced in communities of color. 

That’s why AARP teamed up with America Walks, a nonprofit organization that advances efforts to create safe and enjoyable places to walk by providing local leaders and community members with the skills and the resources to effectively advocate for change.

Developed with support from AARP, the State Walking College program took America Walks’ National Walking College and adapted it for a select group of participants (called fellows) from California, Georgia and South Dakota.

In 2021, the state-based program graduated its first cohorts, which consisted of representatives from towns, cities and counties enrolled in the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities; local leaders; municipal staff working in transportation, public health and planning; AARP staff and volunteers; and a range of other community partners who are working to advance livability policies and designs.

Starting in May, the selected fellows engaged in an 18-week virtual educational program that covered the following six modules about walkability. 

  1.  How We Got Here
  2.  Developing Leadership
  3.  Organizing for Change
  4.  Designing for People
  5.  Shifting Public Policy
  6.  Planning a Strategy

The fellows learned the basics of walkable design, how to navigate the public policy process and effectively engage decision makers, and how to foster a local advocacy movement grounded in equity. State-specific examples and resources were incorporated into the national curriculum, which was recently updated to educate participants about historical injustices and community organizing best practices.

Each fellow was assigned to an experienced mentor — typically a local leader or Walking College graduate — who led small-group discussions and provided individualized coaching. Upon graduation, the fellows developed a walking action plan (see the "Plan on Walking" box) to tackle a walkability problem in their community.

"Changing our communities is not going to happen by decree from above," says Mike McGinn, executive director of America Walks. "It’s going to happen from the cumulative impact of people working at the local level, changing minds, changing investment patterns, and changing streets."

Rebecca Delphia, the AARP Livable Communities team member who leads the collaboration with America Walks, agrees.

"The power of State Walking Colleges is that every fellow commits to doing something to create a more walkable community for people of all ages," she says. "We hope the approach inspires others to take up the charge too, by leading a walk audit in their community, getting involved on a local board or commission, or encouraging their local leaders to shift public policy.”

Page published March 2022

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