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What is Inclusion?

In 2016, I have given talks of various lengths about transportation/urban planning and equity. Over my career, I have found that when people hear the words diversity and inclusion they default to race and income, often confounding the two. For example, I hear people mention low-income, minority communities. However, as we work on different project and I grow as a professional, I have learned that diversity and inclusion does include race and income as well as other factors. In transportation, I believe that a system that is diverse and inclusive gives everyone independence, options, and assurance that they can get to point A to B safely, timely, and reliably.

On Friday November 4, 2016, I had the privilege of being the keynote at the Annual Harrisonburg & Rockingham Bike-Walk Summit. This year’s theme was “Stronger Together: Building an Inclusive Biking and Walking Community”. As the keynote, I framed the conversation and provided food for thought. The afternoon sessions where small group discussions of how to take my talking points and apply it in the Harrisonburg & Rockingham County context.

Here are some points that I shared with them to consider when building an inclusive biking and walking community.

  1. Be inclusive of persons with disabilities: Often when talking about biking and walking, persons with disabilities are excluded. There are opportunities to include persons with disabilities in active transportation. For example, the organization that I co-founded, Black Women Bike, has visually impaired women that ride with us. We use a tandem bike and a pilot, which is a sighted person.
  2. Engage non-traditional partners: One way to accomplish this is engaging non-traditional partners in transportation planning. For the District’s multimodal plan, moveDC, we engaged advocates that serve low income, homeless, veteran advocates, youth, immigrants, disability/mobility, and LGBTQ populations.
  3. Use images that reflect the community: Photos and images are an easy way to make people feel included. Often on marketing materials the person biking or walking is a fit, young adult. If there is diversity, it is what I call the United Colors of Benneton diversity, which is one person of each race, but they are young models. Photos should reflect the diversity of the community including race/ethnicity, age, abilities, size, shape, professions, and neighborhoods. One way to get photos is to set up a group on a photo sharing website to crowdsource from the community.
  4. Don’t fight, invite: In my work with Nspiregreen and Black Women Bike, I’ve heard all the arguments against “cyclists”. I’ve learned not to fight. Instead, I invite them on a bike ride. Every time I’ve done this it has disarmed people. What I’ve realized is that some people perceive biking as something that is for young, physically fit people. The root feeling is exclusion. After describing how they can bike despite age and physical ability, people are curious and start asking more questions.
  5. Take meetings to the streets: The best way to engage people is to go to the streets. This could include farmer’s markets, bus stops, transit stations, events, festivals, and the literal street corner.

After hearing the report out from the interaction sessions at the summit, I was able to respond and leave everyone with final thoughts. The take home message from the day is that diversity and inclusion has to be intentional, authentic, and built into the planning process versus trying to retrofit after the fact. Diversity describes who is in the room during the planning process.  Inclusion is when people feel heard, they were part of the process, and the outcomes meet the needs of their community.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 

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Recharging Batteries in Hawaii

I grew up in a valley surrounded by the magnificent mountain of “El Avila” in Caracas, Venezuela. During some school breaks, I traveled with my family through the Andes mountain ranges to get to the Venezuelan “llanos,” a vast tropical grassland plain. I enjoyed admiring the wonderful landscapes, the diverse flora and fauna, and even the cultural changes among the towns we passed by. These trips piqued my curiosity about how the earth formed the way it did, and how living beings adapted to each variation of land. I love nature and being in contact with it, not only because of the psychological and emotional benefits it provides (topic for another blog), but also because it makes me feel part of something bigger, ancient, and powerful. That is one of the reasons I decided to pursue the career of Geography in the first place

I recently had the opportunity to visit part of the earth that is still actively growing: the wonderful islands of Hawaii. As soon as I saw land from the plane after a 6-hour flight from San Diego, CA, I was delighted to see the beautiful landscape that form the islands. From the plane, I could see Honolulu, a city surrounded by water and mountains. In the picture below, you can see the huge Diamond Head crater, which is one of the footprints of the ancient volcanic activity that created and formed the island of Oahu.

My husband and I stayed in Honolulu the first night. The next day we drove to the east side of the island, where we stay in an Airbnb near one of the best beaches in the U.S. and the world (according to TripAdvisor): Lanikai Beach in Kailua.

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

The next day, we decided to explore the northeast side of the island. As recommended by a taxi driver, we downloaded a mobile app that provided us with a guided tour around the island explaining the magnificent formations, beaches, places, and cultural activities as we drove by them.

Gypsy Oahu mobile application

Gypsy Oahu mobile application

 

We headed to the north side of the Island appreciating the beautiful beaches to our right and the magnificent mountains of Oahu to our left, until we got to the North Shore and Sunset Beach where we arrived just in time to watch the sunset.

View of the mountain from Kualua Point, Oahu, HI

View of the mountain from Kualoa Point, Oahu, HI

 

 

Panoramic photo of the sunset at Sunset Beach, Oahu, HI

Sunset at Sunset Beach, Oahu, HI

 

The next day, while relaxing on Lanikai beach, we saw people hiking on a mountain behind us, so we decided to hike the trail. The hike was call the “Pillbox Hike” and the view was incredible from there. Here are a few pictures:

Panoramic photo of Lanikai Beach from Pillbox Hike mountain Oahu, HI

Pillbox Hike near Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

For our last day, we visited the Big island, which is the only one with an active volcano. The weather conditions didn’t allow us to see the volcano or the flowing lava, but were able to enjoy our day a very unique and amazing beach scenery at the Black Sand beach. As its name indicates, the sand is black since it was recently formed by lava that cool down with the sea. We were also surprised to see sea turtles relaxing at the beach and swimming in the sea.

Turtles at the Black Beach, Island of Hawaii, HI

Turtles at the Black Beach, Island of Hawaii, HI

Being this close to the evidence of how Hawaiians islands were formed and still are forming is incredibly energizing and fascinating. Similar to my family trips around Venezuela, admiring these diverse and imposing landscapes make feel revitalized and refreshed. I highly recommend you to visit Hawaii, and enjoy its incredible landscapes, as well as its super friendly people that will received you with a warm “Aloha.”

 

Fabiana I. Paez is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in urban planning projects, as well as social and environmental causes.

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Connecting the Dots & Food Justice Pt.2: Addressing Barriers to Healthy Food

Last time , I talked about my time in the Capital Region of New York State working on food justice and access. The biggest takeaway of my experience, which permeates my work with Nspiregreen, was the need to help people connect the dots. In this part, I’ll talk about the challenge of healthy eating and cooking. Many people that I encountered thought that healthy food was bland or tasted like dirt (looking at you, radishes!!), was expensive to buy, and complicated to make. The thing is, I don’t disagree, healthy food can be all of these things but it doesn’t have to be.

One of my favorite experiences was serving as the mobile produce market assistant coordinator for the Veggie Mobile. The market provides affordable fresh fruits and vegetables to areas where there are no grocery stores or resources to get fresh foods, a.k.a. food deserts. During my tenure, I happened to observe the buying habits of our customers as we visited the food deserts of NY State’s Capital Region.

The older generations would generally go for cooking vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, collard greens, carrots, onions, potatoes, and turnips. I could talk with these patrons for hours about recipes and preparation methods for the produce we sold. The younger shoppers, however, would mostly go for fruit like apples, pears, grapes, bananas, etc., because they were ready to eat and sweet. Some young people they would tell us that they were picking up the cooking vegetables for their parents or grandparents to prepare and would ask for recommendations.

It became obvious that there were barriers, more than just providing the produce, that were keeping younger generations from learning about fruits and vegetables as well as their preparation. Maybe it was a lack of interest, education and cooking skills, or time in our faster-paced society, other obligations, barriers to accessing preparation equipment, or our American taste palettes trained on overly processed, fast foods. Whatever the reason, I did my best in creating the recipes for the “taste and take” for something that could be replicated with minimal investment with maximum deliciousness. But the Veggie Mobile is just in the Capital Region of NY, and while there are similar projects around the country, they only address these issues in a small area.

As a planner, we need to also think broad-scale, system wide. How can this be fixed? What can we do to reconnect people to cooking skills and healthy eating? The answer? Education, policy and programs, and planning. Here are some things planners and municipalities can do:

EDUCATION:

  1. Bring back Home Economics: Did you have a home economics class as a kid in middle school or high school? These courses are often first to get cut when school budgets are strained, but they can be designed to reinforce other subjects like mathematics (reducing or multiplying recipes), science (biology and botany if you have a school garden or physics with cooking), art (sewing and cooking presentation or plating), writing skills and reading comprehension (reading or creating recipes). But they also provide crucial life skills for generations to be self- sufficient. No calling mom to sew on a button for you! And to my two main points, home ec can teach the life cycle of plants from seed to vegetable to plate.
  2. Utilize Parks and Recreation Programming: Parks departments can hold educational classes or community mentors for gardening lessons, cooking classes, meal planning, and nutrition classes that help build resident capacity and knowledge base.
  3. Start them young: Teachers can hold cooking classes for younger children to get them used to eating fruits and vegetables. Field trips to farms can be educational ways of showing where foods come from, how they grow, and how they make it to our plates.
  4. Reach out to communities in food deserts. Let them know these classes and opportunities are happening. Don’t skimp on this part!

 

POLICY and PROGRAMS:

  1. Include food access and security into comprehensive planning!! Similar to land use and other evaluations, we can assess neighborhood access and food security and utilize the comprehensive planning process to get the ball rolling to address these issues.
  2. Zoning Codes can be used to enact policies that implement edible landscapes in parks, encourage grocery store development in food deserts, set aside vacant land for community gardens, etc.
  3. Community Garden programs can be sponsored by a municipal parks department. These programs can potentially (after soil tests and/or remediation techniques) use city-owned, vacant urban land used as pocket gardens for growing food.
  4. Healthy corner store initiatives and small business grants can be employed to enable corner stores to sell produce. Grants assist in buying refrigeration equipment and trainings for business owners
  5. School Districts can support local food systems by developing policies for partnering with local farms, which in turn support those local businesses and protect agricultural lands
  6. Partnering of markets with community healthcare centers to help with education and outreach to people facing diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. For example: the Veggie Mobile partnered with a local community health care center with sponsorship from a proactive insurance provider to subsidize a coupon program. The doctors would distribute weekly coupons to patients that they could use like cash on the veggie mobile. Farmers markets could set up a similar program in areas of high need.

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 





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