SDOT showcases Play Streets, learns how to ‘walk the talk’ at national summit

The City of Seattle got to highlight its Play Streets Pilot Program at a national conference recently. The program lead, Public Space Specialist Seth Geiser, traveled to Washington, D.C. following an invitation to come talk about Seattle’s public space innovation.

Geiser’s session focused on how the Play Streets Program enables temporary neighborhood street transformations, creating more community-building play space where such a resource may be lacking. “[The attendees] were excited about the scale and speed with which we rolled out the program,” said Geiser. “Most feared the amount of regulation that their cities and neighborhoods would have to dedicate to a program like Play Streets. What we’ve found is that you can usually trust the neighborhoods to regulate themselves.”

The focus of the conference was on making the promotion of walking more of an active priority for cities. “What they were trying to do at this conference was look at how we can design and repurpose cities so that walking is more of an everyday thing,” said Geiser.

Breakout sessions at the conference highlighted topics such as urban hiking, the experience of women walking in urban environments, and developing city streets that are user-friendly for people of all ages.

The conference also hosted a number of interactive workshops that allowed conference attendees to physically test out some of the lessons they had learned. One such workshop was held daily and was referred to as a “Netwalking” session (no, not taking your tablet for a stroll). Outside on busy DC streets, attendees were led through activities that taught them how to break away from traditional conference-room meeting environments and instead hold walk-and-talk meetings outside the office. It just might become the new ‘thing.’

The summit’s closing session included a talk given by former King County Executive Ron Sims. Sims, who at one time was also the Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, highlighted ways the built environment is sometimes inequitably developed. In particular, he noted that the location of some homes can hinder access to pedestrian options for those living there.

According to Geiser, the main takeaway from the conference was the importance of making walking a go-to transportation choice.

“No one has to think much about getting in their car and going.” explained Geiser.  “The idea is to make walking just as easy.”

The National Walking Summit, October 28 – 30, welcomed more than 500 visitors and speakers hailing from 40+ states.