healthy communities

Stepping it Up: Embracing The Surgeon General’s Call to Action for Walkable Communities


By Kathy Sykes

Close up of legs and feet walking on cobble stone.

Walkability can be an important aspect of a healthy, sustainable community.

The first steps I took when I was young soon opened the door to my independence and later my first run. Most of us take walking for granted—until it is no longer easy. Luckily, my parents chose Madison, Wisconsin to raise me and my siblings, in a beautiful and walkable neighborhood. The places we frequented on foot left an indelible memory—the Arboretum, Picnic Point (my favorite!), the duck pond, and Vilas Zoo. From pre-school to graduate school, we could go practically anywhere on foot.

A short distance from our home there was a grocery store, bakery, pharmacy, ice cream shop, and dentist. Walking another direction from home I passed the Friends Meeting House, a pet store, a hardware store, a bank, and a mailbox—everything needed was steps away.

When I moved to Washington, D.C. to start my career, I sought a similar neighborhood that did not require a car. While I arrived in DC prior to the creation of Walk Score, I selected a walkable community. Walk Score is a tool that ranks the walkability of a place on a scale from zero (“Must Have a Car”) to 100 (“Walker’s Paradise”).

I grew up in a “very walkable” neighborhood (walk score of 84) and live in one now (walk score 82). While walkability is critical, other attributes matter too, such as the extent of tree canopy cover available to shade the sidewalks on a hot summer day, traffic patterns, how local storm water is managed, and air quality. As a senior advisor working in EPA’s sustainable and healthy communities research program, I work with scientists, engineers, and other experts illuminating those attributes that add up to a healthy environment and how important they are for our own well-being.

One of my tasks as an appointee of the Mayor’s Age-Friendly DC Taskforce was to lead walking audits. Together with individuals of all ages and abilities we documented the absence and conditions of sidewalks, intersection visibility and safety, the presence of curb cuts, and whether individuals with a slow gait had sufficient time to cross. Finally, were benches present to rest or wait for a bus?

Image of Surgeon General at a podium during the "Step it Up!" launch.

Step it Up!

That kind of work is what led to an invitation to represent EPA at the official launch of “Step it Up!”—the Surgeon General’s call to action to promote walking and walkable communities.

Mobility can be a challenge from very early, later in life, or throughout life. It is up us to make changes to ensure that we all can enjoy the independence, health, and environmental benefits of walking.

The Surgeon General has it right: a walk is as good as a hit. In my opinion, his Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities is a home run.

About the Author: EPA’s Kathy Sykes has been “Stepping it Up” to advance sustainability and healthy communities for more than a decade. She is an expert in issues related to aging in place.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Act On Climate: Become a Climate Citizen Scientist for Earth Day 2014

By Rebecca French

Image credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program (

Image credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program (

Did you know that everyone can participate in climate change research? Public participation in scientific research—“citizen science”—has a long and proven track record. And you and your family can join in on the fun!

Using data from a 114-year-old citizen science project, the Christmas Bird Count, EPA scientists have identified an important indicator of the impacts of climate change: on average, North American bird species have moved northward and away from coasts during the winter—some species some 200 to 400 miles north since the 1960s. I grew up in Connecticut, so that would be like my family moving our house to Canada.

Collecting information on this climate change impact would not be possible without the thousands of volunteers who count birds every year. But this is just one of many climate citizen science projects.

One type of citizen science – volunteer environmental monitoring – can be an integral part of understanding the impacts of climate change. The EPA’s National Estuaries Program (NEP) is a network of voluntary, community-based programs that safeguards the health of important coastal ecosystems across the country. Estuaries are particularly vulnerable to climate change, so getting involved with your local NEP can make a real difference.

EPA also supports many citizen science programs through the Volunteer Water Monitoring Program, and EPA’s Region 2 office has launched a citizen science website with resources to support community-based citizen science projects for water, air, and soil.

The projects above can get you involved on a local scale, but there are also climate citizen science projects that go national and even global using a type of citizen science called “crowdsourcing.” Below are some of my favorite crowdsourcing citizen science projects that combine volunteers and the internet to build national data sets for climate change research:

  • Project Budburst, Nature’s Notebook and NestWatch all require you to get outdoors and record your observations of the natural world, such as when plants are flowering or birds are laying eggs. Kids will love these, so bring your family with you.
  • Participating in Old Weather or Cyclone Center can be done from your couch with a computer and an internet connection. The scientists behind these projects need human eyes to analyze images of ship’s logs or storms. When it comes to image analysis, the human eye is still the best technology out there.

You and your family can volunteer for these climate citizen science projects for Earth Day this year to act on climate. Your contributions will be used by scientists to understand climate change impacts on weather, plants and even birds’ nesting habits.

Take some time for Earth Day this year to contribute to climate change research and learn how these projects have partnered with the public to advance climate science. Maybe you will be inspired to create your own citizen science project. Oh yeah, and have fun too!

Happy Earth Day!

About the author: Rebecca French is an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.