LEEding Toward Wellness Task Force Plans to Walk the Downtown Sanford Area

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A logo image with the words LEE-ding Toward Wellness.

The LEEding Toward Wellness Task Force has finalized plans to conduct a walkability assessment, or “walk audit”, in the downtown Sanford area in partnership with the Sanford Farmers Market. There are many benefits that can come from walk audits, including a safer walking environment for people of all ages and abilities in the areas where we live, work, and play. As a task force, we have the mission to educate, empower, and connect all Lee County residents to opportunities that provide them with healthy resources that improve their overall well-being. In addition, maintaining an active lifestyle can have positive outcomes in reducing the risk of serious health problems and chronic disease.

A common challenge when auditing the walkability of an area is the fact that many city centers were originally designed to accommodate automobile transportation rather than pedestrian movement. One of the questions the audit will address is: “Whether or not downtown Sanford offers a positive environment for active transportation that promotes connectivity of community resources and pedestrian movement?” Through the audit, we will be analyzing and observing downtown street characteristics and conditions to gain greater insight into safer and more effective ways for pedestrians to navigate Sanford’s urban area.

We have chosen to partner with the Sanford Farmers Market because we recognize the growth that has occurred at the market this season, where people of all ages and backgrounds are coming out to access fresh and local foods. The market is seeing an average of 826 customers each Saturday, over double the number of customers that visited on a typical weekend last year. Many market attendees are also Sanford residents and reside in the downtown area, with most visiting from within walking distance. Ease of access to local foods is a critical element of a community’s strong and equitable food system, especially with food insecurity steadily on the rise. According to the 2019-2020 report from the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, 19% of Lee County residents are food insecure, a 5.5% increase from the 2018-2019 report. The USDA Food Access Research Atlas has a feature that identifies lower-income census tracts vehicle transportation and reliable access to the nearest supermarket. The census tract for downtown Sanford provides a snapshot of an area where more than 100 housing units do not have a vehicle and where they are more than ½ mile from the nearest supermarket. Can you guess where the Sanford Farmers Market is located and the future location of the Sanford Ag Marketplace? Right in the middle of this census tract, currently identified as a food desert!

With the positive growth of the Farmers Market and the critical point we are at for accessing local foods, LEEding Toward Wellness is striving to bring the community together to identify ways to make it easier for individuals of all ages and abilities to safely travel as pedestrians around the downtown Sanford area.

Next Steps:

August 27th, 2022- LEEding Toward Wellness will be out at the Sanford Farmers Market conducting a community survey on the perceived level of safety in the downtown area and assessing the various modes of travel used by market customers.

October 22nd, 2022- Tentative Walkability Audit day. We need people of all ages and abilities to participate in the walkability assessment to ensure that diverse perspectives are represented and ensure all beneficial improvements are included.

If you are interested in learning more about the LEEding Toward Wellness Task Force or would like to become a champion for community health, please contact Ashley Szilvay, Family and Consumer Science Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County, at 919-775-5624.