Creating a Whitehorse walking focus

I'm looking at The case for improving health outcomes through placemaking, 2016, by Project for Public Spaces, Inc. Since Whitehorse is a small-population, large-footprint northern wilderness town, its walking reality is different than the big southern cities which are the focus of this organization. Yet in many respects this importance of place very much applies equally to us. As a heavily outdoor-focussed town, our asperations for walkability are similar, just that our sidewalks are also trails, and our destinatons can be forest, lakes, rivers and mountains.

Sidewalks, protected bike lanes, street designs that calm traffic, and having a number of quality destinations within walking distance are all community features that play a part in determining our activity levels. Placemaking supports more walkable and bikeable communities by fostering the creation of new community destinations, improving the safety and aesthetics of streets, and enhancing local sense of community.

Research also suggests that placemaking efforts to improve a community's walkability can have a number of cascading physical, social, economic, and environmental benefits including: increasing physical activity and cognitive function; reducing risk factors of obesity and chronic disease; improving the safety and accessibility of streets and other public spaces; supporting and boosting local economies; and reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases by encouraging non-automotive transportation.

Walking, as a community, looks at walking from the point of view of the community. How can Whitehorse be more of a walking community — good for residents, their fun and health, and a big plus, a tourism niche — and how can we do this.

A key concept is affordability. The fiscal fairness page touches on this concept and the walking tourism page looks at what it means to be a walking destination. Essentially some things like a bridge or a staircase or trail enhancement cost money; other things like zoning changes, a marketing point of view, making different decisions can be pretty inexpensive.

Advocacy, community input

Essentially, more people have to get involved. Talk walking with your friends, your community association, Mayor and Council, the Chamber of Commerce—make walking a bigger topic.

So when it comes to progress it's often getting things to change. Who to lobby? Trails and greenspaces certainly fall under areas of interest for both Kwanlin Dün and Ta'an Kwachan first nations as this is their traditional territories.

The federal and territorial governments can provide help, although it's often money-based support (see Walker's guide to Territorial and Canada page). There are certainly some things that can change such as having the tourism department focus on informing visitors on walking outside of high-end guided adventures, developing walking destinations. Perhaps Environment's wildlife viewing program can offer more nature walks, or Geology can give more geography interpretation walks.

However, in reality, most things in Whitehorse happen with the blessing or the desire of the City. The City has a number of people and departments with greenspace and trail interest (see the Walker's guide to City of Whitehorse page). Some of the more major are:

  • Mayor and council
  • Senior management
  • Planning
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Parks and Recreation
    - Trails department
    - Whitehorse Trail & Greenways Committee
    - Bylaw

We need to incorporate a walking point of view into each city process. Who should do this? What is a walking point of view?

Walkers' interests are broad

The page, Walking, as individuals, looks at walking from the point of view of individual walkers: variety, interesting destinations, shortcuts, ease of access, loop trails, close to home, safe, wellness. It's important to keep in mind the differences between active transpotration walking and recreational walking. The former can more easily access funding and seem well supported. The latter, less so.

Ideas to improve walking is selection of projects that would make walking better. Here's a few thoughts...

A walking point of view

Nurture engaged citizens. Places belong to those who live, work, and play there. Engaged citizens participate in community life and decision-making. (2007 Integrated Community Sustainability Plan)

Key recommendations of this Plan and indeed the very format of the written document put the emphasis on grass-roots involvement of individuals and groups of all ages.(2007 Trail Plan)

As an individual it's pretty easy to give input to some city processes. I've created whitehorsewalks.com for this.

The city is also growing in its desire to honour the input of residents; the planning department's current five OCP parks planning process goes as far as saying public concerns and issues are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and will provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.

However, other city processes such as Parks and Recreation's greenways committee only allow organized groups to sit at the negotiating table. These are important processes so let's look at which organizations speak for walkers.

There are many groups with needs and opinions that affect trails and greenspaces. I've listed some of these on my Guide to Community groups page. Looking at recreation, it's obvious there are lots of sport voices (some more facility based, others trail and greenspace based and yet others event based); there's also some stewardship groups and some development/business ones.

Here's the problem: there is no group focussed on walking, and certainly no group with a walking advocacy focus.

The closest universal group that sometimes examines aspects of walking is a community association.

Community associations

Public wants to build from the neighbourhood level up (2007 Parks and Recreation Master Plan)

neighbourhood trails in particular need to be planned in detail at the neighbourhood level with the direct involvement of the residents (2007 Trail Plan)

Bob Sharp wrote an astute assessment of neighbourhood voices: In 2012, can neighbourhoods still be heard?

However, many neighbourhoods don't have community associations, and even when there is a community association, only some people join.

Community associations can be limited in what they can accomplish: they are generally dependent on the efforts of a few; might have directors who wish to mostly pursue an interest in a particular issue; are run by volunteers and only able to pursue one or two bigger issues; can be dominated by a couple of members; may not care about walking points of view; can be overwhelmed by city processes.

While obvious places to funnel neighbourhood wishes, the role of community associations is not always clear. Are they supposed to take stands on issues, or just try to ensure the issues get clearly presented? Inevitably they end up speaking for their neighbourhood, sometimes to the chagrin of some residents; in fairness, people need to work with their neighbours and one tradition has been within a community association.

Lastly, what's the best way of involving neighbourhoods? Some ideas: community meetings with topical speakers, newsletters or fact sheets, websites. Door to door is a labour intensive task but can be effective.

Whitehorse walking activities that could happen

Walking Festival

Whitehorse should have an annual Walking Festival. Great for locals, great for visitors.

Think about: when, audience, cost, length, budget, leaders, organizers, dog friendly, midnight hike

From Autumn and winter walking festivals, Walking festivals offer the chance to:

Other events

possibilities such as Jane's Walks, evening walks, walking days...


Trails charette topics

Map your neighbourhood — bioregional mapping

Using hand-drawn, personal maps, Whitehorse Community Climate Change Adaptation Plan members shared stories of how their neighbourhoods are used and what they value about their community. I call these 'Pooh" maps, based on Winnie-the-pooh! To see what I mean search for Winnie-the-pooh and map and look at the results by images.

  1. Grey Mountain – Porter Creek
  2. McLean Lake to downtown
  3. 'Round Kluhini — Riverdale North
  4. McLean Creek
  5. Whitehorse — the highway and the river
  6. Porter and McIntyre creeks
  7. Hillcrest, Paddy's Pond/Ice Lake
  8. Whitehorse and environs
  9. McIntyre Creek
  10. Downtown — active, wild, people
  11. Seasons — Whitehorse cross-country ski trails
  12. City center trail fun
  13. City center dog walking and biking
  14. Bike and hike and wild views of Riverdale area
  15. Airport escarpment overlooking downtown

Here's some fun maps from National Geographic

The adorable maps today's cartographers made as kids Here's how eight mapmakers got their start, growing from youthful enthusiasts into successful professionals.

Also, Community Walking Maps: Communities on Foot Map Series and Community map making handbook.

More looking at neighbourhood mapping: Fricking awesome maps from the silver age of comic books and Comic book cartography

Behold a glorious vintage map of Yosemite National Park Can you find your favorite spots in this 85-year-old artistic map?