Written by Lacey Everett, Government and Community Relations Strategist,MIBOR REALTOR® Association
Over the past several years, a significant challenge for local communities has come to the surface – walkability. It’s not a buzz word any longer, but even still, elected officials and community leaders are still learning how to address the challenge and improve the connectivity, safety and quality of life of their communities.
MIBOR REALTOR® Association has been a strong advocate for attention and action on walkability issues in the central Indiana region. We know that walkability is important to homebuyers, and has shown to improve property values as well.
Using a Smart Growth grant from NAR, MIBOR organized a more tangible way to educate on and address the issue with community leaders and officials – by hosting a walkability audit and Walkshop in one of our municipalities.
The two-day event kicked off in Franklin, IN, a city located 25 minutes south of Indianapolis, with a walk audit along a mile stretch of US 31. The Mayor of Franklin, Steve Barnett, City of Franklin planners, Indiana Department of Transportation officials and representatives from the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce and Johnson County Development Corporation joined local REALTORS® to participate in the audit.
A windshield and walking tour was led by Dan Burden and Samantha Thomas, national walkability experts from Blue Zones, LLC. The group surveyed sidewalk width, driving lane width, crosswalks, curb cuts, barriers, buffers and more.
US 31 in Franklin, IN is like thoroughfares in many of our other communities, having been built to accommodate increasing vehicular traffic, but at the detriment of pedestrian traffic and connectivity within the community.
With MIBOR’s large service area, encompassing 13 counties in central Indiana, we chose to invite planners and community leaders from our entire region to participate in the Walkshop. The goal was to allow everyone to learn from each other and collectively develop next steps that they could each take back to their communities.
Dan Burden and Samantha Thomas did a phenomenal job explaining the importance of connectivity and walkability to neighborhood health.
“Neighborhoods decline when the people who live there lose their connection and no longer feel part of their community,” said Burden. “Recapturing that sense of belonging and pride of place can be as simple as planting a civic garden or placing some benches in a park.”
Focusing on people and community first is the key. As Dan Burden mentioned, if we plan for cars and traffic, we get cars and traffic. If instead we plan for people and places, we get people and places.
Participants in the WalkShop had an opportunity to take part in a mini walkability audit around the downtown courthouse and surrounding area.
Overall, the Walkshop was an eye-opening experience for our elected officials and community leaders. It was also a great opportunity for our REALTOR® members to share insight on consumer preference and the demand for walkable communities.
MIBOR is eager to continue this conversation and work with our local leaders to create actionable goals for addressing walkability!