I am fortunate that I feel fairly comfortable being active outside on my own, but I know many women who are not comfortable going for a run alone in their neighbourhood, or who won’t go explore the amazing river valley through the city on their own because of safety concerns . This of course isn’t unique to women either as racialized groups also often feel unsafe in these locations.
I was thinking about this in terms of the river valley scavenger hunt I’ve been participating in. Between my physical mobility and my comfort and feelings of safety, I have been able to wander new locations searching for hidden locations, tromp through forests, up and down slippery paths, and creep back and forth through spaces. Nobody has reported me for suspicious behaviour, nor do I have concerns that they will, and therefore I have enjoyed being active, promoting an organization over social media, and discovering new places. But this isn’t the case for everyone.
This summer saw an uprising of BIPOC individuals claiming their right to be in these spaces. Starting with Black Birders Week after the shameful incident in Central Park when a white woman called the cops on a black man who was out birding. But there is still much to be done.
In 2004 Boslaugh et al found that African Americans saw their neighbourhoods as less safe and less pleasant for physical activity compared to white individuals. This was independent of the racial composition of the neighbourhood. This contrasts with Lapham et als (2015) finding that men and African Americans were more likely to perceive parks as safe. The timing of this second study does make me wonder if the presence of President Obama influenced the perceptions of safety among African Americans and whether the findings would be the same during and following the Trump presidency?
Suglia et al (2016) suggest that the social environment of a neighbourhood, which includes components like social norms, social cohesion, neighbourhood crime and safety, and poverty are all important considerations when addressing obesity prevention as these can all impact physical activity levels within a community. This makes a lot of sense, there were definitely a few locations I have explored during the scavenger hunt where I wasn’t sure if I really belonged. I was worried that residents might look at me funny, but I still wasn’t worried for my own safety. I imagine others would be and would ultimately choose not to hike the path.
None of this is said to critique the organization hosting the scavenger hunt. I love the idea of what they created this year and I have appreciated the opportunities to explore areas that I haven’t been to before, which is saying something considering I have worked and played in the river valley for a long time. But I do think that we have more opportunities than we may realize to welcome others who may not feel safe into our neighbourhoods to be active and have the opportunity to experience what an area like the North Saskatchewan River Valley has to offer. Perhaps for the next scavenger hunt more of the locations could venture into less well off areas of the river valley? Perhaps there could be a daily meetup of people at locations so that an individual doesn’t have to travel there on their own (obviously this wouldn’t have worked this year with restrictions for COVID-19 but perhaps in the future)? Perhaps all the locations could be accessible through public transportation? Perhaps all the locations could be accessible to those with physical disabilities? Food for thought. How can we change our activities to help invite a more diverse population?