by Rebecca Gernes, CALC Community Adviser
After nearly four years with CALC, I am moving back to my hometown to be closer to family. While I am excited for this new chapter, it is hard to leave Denver, especially during these difficult times. As a close friend reminded me recently, however, somehow life has to keep going. I have completely loved my time in Denver working with the CALC team and our many partners. In many ways, this was my dream job--riding bikes, playing in the streets, and connecting with Denver residents about the wonders of active living. This team and this city have taught me so much, but I only have one blog post left, so I’ll try to distill a few life lessons from my ride with CALC:
Active living is more than exercise. It’s living.
Like others stuck at home, I’ve tried out at-home yoga videos to break up the day. I’m stuck on this one phrase I hear on repeat: make your transitions beautiful. While I’m pretty sure the instructor is just talking about the transition from downward facing dog to plank, I’ve started to notice how the idea applies to other parts of my life.
So much of our time and energy is, understandably, focused on the places we work, live, and play: our homes, our offices, our parks and schools, and our commercial centers. But what if we considered the transitions between those places as worthwhile spaces of their own? Not just in terms of the time it takes to get there, but the quality of that time and the life it gives back to us. Time to read a book chapter or just watch people on the bus. Time to feel the air change from spring to summer on a bike ride home. Time to catch up with neighbors on a walk around your block. Attention to these moments, to me, is what active living is all about. What happens when we reclaim our time to witness and enjoy the connections between places? How can we bring more joy, more life, into our transitions?
Begin anywhere. Start today.
Inertia is tricky--it either keeps us moving or keeps us from ever trying. From the composer John Cage, “begin anywhere” reminds me there’s no wrong place to start. For active living, this is literal. Begin anywhere. Really. Step outside. Never taken a bus? Board at the nearest stop to you and get off at the next one. Bike collecting dust? Clean it off and ride around your neighborhood. Want to see what your street would look like with a bike lane? Put one there for a day (with the appropriate city permitting). When we’re trapped in one way of thinking, or moving, change can seem impossible. That first change can be so small, but it breaks open a new reality, and that can add up to huge differences down the line.
We are enough
During my time in Denver, I’ve been lucky enough to see Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler speak about her perspectives on equity, diversity, and inclusion. When talking about the enormity of problems like racism or structural inequality, she uses the analogy of the builders of the great cathedrals--people who never saw the finished product but nonetheless contributed their lives to something lasting and beautiful. Faced with complex, long-ranging problems in our cities and communities, it can feel like we will never reach the finish line.
I hear it again and again in the world of public health: there is no miracle cure to help communities and health thrive. The finish line doesn’t exist. Rather, there are endless threads etching a way forward. And, stay with me here, we are those threads. We each have unique perspectives, connections, and power to challenge unbalanced systems and contribute to equity in our world. This is so apparent to me in the vibrant street art, themed bike rides and learn-to-ride workshops, and creative pop-up projects and storytelling labs I’ve seen crop up all over Denver. Our stories, our connections, and our strengths are enough, right now, to make a better city for all of us.
People make the place, not the other way around.
My first project with CALC was counting kids walking and biking to school all around Denver. It was such a perfect window into this place: watching people arrive at school, noticing patterns where crossing guards take their places, kids and families flock out to greet one another, to watch a neighbor’s dog, to buy a frozen after-school treat, and, amazingly, how this whole dance starts and stops in the span of just 15 minutes all over the city. This experience showed me so clearly that people--their homes, languages, movements, and values--are the lifeblood of any place, long before any "placemaking" happens. When considering how to make a street more inviting, a school safer to walk to, or a grocery store easier to bike to, we need to first talk to and learn from the people using these spaces. They’ll have ideas, and ultimately impacts, we’d never dream of without their input.
Make it count
We have to be able to learn from our mistakes and successes. Tracking our activities and outcomes helps us strengthen our partnerships and grow our impact. This is where coalitions and volunteers are so crucial. Whether it’s helping collect data around the city, filling out a survey with your feedback on a project, attending a public meeting, or sharing your story about how transportation has affected your life, your input has helped us continuously learn and improve our outreach. Keep sharing, keep riding, keep connecting, and keep a record of your amazing work!