Using tactical urbanism to improve food access in Durham, North Carolina
One year ago, US Lead Mary Elbech hatched a plan with colleagues Julia and Beth Katz to volunteer their time to help improve mobility in their city of Durham, North Carolina. Their focus: facilitating better mobility connections in low-income neighbourhoods with older populations, allowing for increased freedom of movement and access to food. The trio recognized that one of the biggest barriers to community accessibility for people with limited mobility is a lack of safe and convenient sidewalks and crossings. However, with municipal budgets being already strained, the solution was not always an easy fix. Their approach to the problem? Tactical urbanism.
Mary, Julia and Beth identified three neighbourhoods in need, ultimately selecting Durham’s West End, where two low-income residence organisations were very excited and interested by the proposed project. Home to Maplewood Square and CASA residences, the community was just 0.4 miles from the local Durham Co-op Market. However, for many of the older residents without cars, the nearest crossing was too far to walk and was far from the most direct route.
The team’s proposed project, named Point4Health, focused on creating a crossing where Chapel Hill Road intersects with Whitcomb Street using a tactical urbanism approach. Light, quick, cheap methods that would provide a temporary crosswalk installation and help facilitate a a more walkable trip to the closest grocery. With food security and equity becoming a growing challenge for many cities, the approach, run through Upstream Works Collaborative, and supported by Neighborhood Improvement Services and Durham 150, would help address the existing need in West End. “The project aimed to increase access to local food resources and improve accessibility via walking for those that could,” explains Mary. At the same time, it provided an opportunity for better connecting residents with their community.
Initially, the team planned for colourful street art to slow passing drivers with strong visual cues, while allowing for a community building element where local residents could join the painting fun during the launch event, held on October 26th. Because of the team’s advocacy, the City of Durham was able to fund a more formal zebra crossing and signage prior to the event, so the team changed the approach of Point4Health slightly. Instead they focused on beautification of the sidewalks, creating a continuous path from the residence to the shopping area. The sidewalk art was designed and painted by local artist Candy Carver. Point4Health also worked with the Durham Co-op to provide lunch and free Food For All memberships for residents to receive discounts on groceries.
Following the launch, on October 31st, the team organized a trip for residents with an option for a shuttle for those who couldn’t walk that far along the route from the residence to the Co-op for a community dinner. At the event, those that were unable to attend the launch event were also given free memberships to the Co-op to minimize financial barriers they may experience to purchasing food in the area. The project team also donated wheeled shopping carts, walkers with seats, and other products to make grocery shopping easier.
At the completion of the project, Mary is pleased with how things turned out and hopes there will be opportunities to work on similar projects. “It’s great to see how reaching out to residents through a simple street art project can facilitate infrastructure improvements and build community at the same time,” she says. “I think the project can be considered a success in highlighting the connection between mobility, accessibility and food access.”
Interested in learning more about this project or how Mobycon can support your upcoming projects? Contact Mary Elbech.