Initiatives to encourage active school travel are predominantly led by active school travel organizations and municipalities, providing little opportunity for youth to present their insight and guidance on initiatives that have a direct impact on their school journeys. The Youth Active School Travel Toolkit, co-authored by a diverse group of youth, was created for youth to use to champion and advocate for active school travel in their communities.
The Town of Ajax launched the Youth Active School Travel Toolkit on October 5th 2022, as a component of the town’s 2021-2022 Equity in Active School Travel Project. The event opened with remarks from Shaun Collier, the Mayor of Ajax; Jay Pitter, Principal Placemaker at Jay Pitter Placemaking; Armi De Francia, Active Transportation Coordinator at the Town of Ajax; and the youth who co-authored and contributed to the toolkit.
At the launch of the toolkit, we spoke with Armi De Francia to discuss the inspiration behind the town’s approach to incorporating youth voices, the use of storytelling, and broader takeaways to advance equity in active transportation. Read along for key moments and insights from our conversation with De Francia.
The need for deeper engagement with youth was identified over the course of the project with Jay Pitter. “As Jay was doing her work as part of the Equity in Active School Travel Project, she identified a need for deeper engagement with people being disproportionately impacted, in this case the youth,” reflected De Francia. “She identified a need to engage directly with youth, leverage their potential, and build community capacity.”
All speakers emphasized the unique focus on youth voices and the role that storytelling played in the development of the toolkit. “There is a page in the toolkit that talks about using both the head and the heart, storytelling tells with the heart” shared De Francia. “Quantitative data can be compelling, but qualitative storytelling has been found to resonate with people more. Storytelling evokes emotions; even if you don’t relate to a person’s lived experience, you can still learn something from them and think about things from a whole new perspective. Using both quantitative and qualitive data for active transportation can be powerful.”
The Town of Ajax, by working with Jay Pitter, recognized the importance of moving away from top-down promotional approaches towards building and deepening relationships with community members. Accordingly, there was a need to build capacity among staff for equitable community engagement and understanding mobility equity to help address systemic barriers. These approaches were applied as part of the toolkit, “It acknowledges and validates the challenges that many of us face based on our identities, which most other discourses in active transportation haven’t done,” said De Francia. The toolkit can help other communities meaningfully and equitably engage community members in conversations about active transportation, helping to address real barriers for the groups that are most impacted.
The toolkit is the product of a great deal of work championed by De Francia, led by Pitter, and informed by a fantastic group of engaged youth. “I think it’s inspirational; I’m really proud of and inspired by the youth who contributed. It’s been great and worthwhile work,” concluded De Francia. We encourage you to read the Active School Travel Toolkit for inspiration and ideas on how to advocate for active school travel at the local level.
This project in Ajax is one of the community-based projects to receive support from the Ontario Active School Travel Fund.