Remember being a kid? You walked or biked everywhere, all the time. And walking to school was the worst. As I recall it, I walked uphill both ways. In a snowstorm. Even in June.
Believe it or not, kids who want to get to their school and play destinations today may have it worse than we did back then. Creepy strangers. High speed traffic. Dark alleys.
But a recent youth engagement effort in the City of Sheridan, Colorado set out to make the community safer for kids . The Sheridan Safe Routes to School (SRTS) project engaged 28 students at Fort Logan Northgate School to find out where they like to go for fun, where they feel safe or unsafe, and how they get to places they like to play and hangout. They took photos of their world and worked with a local spoken work poet to describe the images using their own voices.
Thoughts of one youth participant:
“The broken sidewalk reflects on us as a city. Sidewalks like this reflect poorly on our city and show visitors how little we care about the safety of not only our pedestrians but our bikers too."
The results of the students’ hard work were compiled in an interactive Sheridan Safe Routes to School Web Map, where users can see youth photos and comments, and begin to understand their world as they see it.
The students cited flowers, green spaces, police bicycle patrols, and well-designed sidewalks as positives. Places in open view such as schools and parks were preferred. Among the kids’ greatest concerns were drunk people, drug dealers, and potential predators. Environmental factors such as traffic, walking hazards, and barbed wire also made the list. Places with poor visibility or limited access such as dark woods and alleyways are avoided. Interestingly, many locations the kids use for recreation were perceived as safe by some, and unsafe by others.
Several ‘Signature Projects’ were developed as a result of the youth engagement process. The kids' work inspired the passing of a $33 million bond in Sheridan for infrastructure improvements, and they were lauded by the Mayor for their efforts in 'giving us our marching orders' on how to spend the funds.
Read more about Sheridan and other Safe Routes projects here.