Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Can a sidewalk grow from a garden? Ashland shows us how

By Sarah Canavese

Take a look outside. What do you see? Roadways? How about sidewalks? Chances are, you might not see very many sidewalks, and if you do, you are probably in the lucky minority.

Where I grew up there weren’t many sidewalks, and the ones that were there, weren’t always kept up to code. Ashland, Mo., can’t boast many sidewalks right now, but its citizens are looking to change this trend. Missouri Livable Streets is working with community leaders in Ashland as they consider new ways to incorporate sidewalks and bicycle lanes into existing streets and roads.  

Southern Boone Learning Garden
Jennifer Grabner, director of the Southern Boone Learning Garden in Ashland, works with the Ashland school district and provides programs for students during the school day and afterschool. All programs are garden-based and cover topics in health, nutrition, agriculture and the environment. You might not expect a garden to grow into a sidewalk, but that is exactly what’s happening.

In the winter of 2012, Grabner’s Learning Garden was awarded a five-year grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. The grant focuses on gardening programs and on forming healthy community partnerships.

“We modeled our partnership on Columbia’s Healthy Community Partnership,” said Grabner. As part of that model, Grabner focused on including “things such as a walking school bus and looking into working with the city and county livable streets.”

While the connection between gardens and sidewalks may not be readily apparent, Grabner has known for a while there is a problem with Ashland’s streets and sidewalks. “There are numerous places all over town where they will have a sidewalk part of the way, and it just ends abruptly. I have noticed that for a very long time,” she shared. “Ashland city park is right in the middle of town, but there are absolutely no sidewalks or trails that will lead you to the park. When you see folks who bike or jog, or folks who are mobility impaired, it is really tough to get around, even though it is such a small town. [Ashland is] growing rapidly and its population has more than doubled over the last ten years.”

Grabner cites one area of concern near the schools. “For example, on Main Street which is a main road that goes north/south through Ashland, [it] connects the primary and elementary school buildings on the south end of town to the middle and high school buildings on the north end, [and] there are no sidewalks at all. [There’s a] shoulder and ditches on both sides; lots of people both walk and bike daily on Main Street, but it is getting more and more dangerous to do that because of the amount of traffic.”

One solution to the problem lies with a livable streets strategy: the Walking School Bus program. A walking school bus is just as it sounds. Youth and adults walk to school together in the morning and afternoon. In Ashland, the walking school bus helped educate children on safe walking practices, as well as adults on a safe way to walk their kids to school.

Grabner reports that this program generated a lot of awareness in Ashland and this summer a Walking School Bus of Girl Scouts walked from the primary school down to the park, and these same issues came up. Grabner said, “Once you get off of Broadway, there are no sidewalks for them. So that was about sixty girls and their families aware first hand of those kind[s] of issues.”

While raising awareness of the challenges, Grabner’s also been able to provide solutions that people want to bring back. “It’s been interesting,” she continues. “The more people I talk with about this, folks in their sixties, seventies and eighties, every single one remembers that when they were kids, there were sidewalks. People were walking around all the time, kids were riding bikes, and it did contribute greatly to knowing your neighbors, knowing your community, knowing that you were safe and comfortable in your community. Every single one of them saw that as a good thing. And they see that as something worth trying to bring back.”

To learn more, or to see how your town can get started with active design, visit Missouri Livable Streets.

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