Spring brings new changes to the WalkDenver Board of Directors

by Jessica Vargas on March 23, 2018

Outgoing Board Chair Zachary Owens and new Board Chair Leanne Jeffers answer a few questions for our readers

After four and a half years on the WalkDenver Board of Directors, Board Chair Zachary Owens is stepping down and handing over leadership of the board to Leanne Jeffers, who recently marked three years as a WalkDenver board member. We wanted to thank Zach for his service to our organization and wish him the best of luck in the future! We also want to congratulate Leanne on her new position and look forward to her leadership!

How did you become interested in walkability and pedestrian issues?

Zach: When I learned about climate change in college and how much emissions come from the transportation sector, I decided to give up owning and driving a personal vehicle. I embraced a lifestyle of biking, walking, transit and car-sharing. In 2014 when I moved downtown and started walking to work every day, I became even more passionate about the pedestrian experience – from safety to having fun and interesting places to walk.

Leanne: As a public health professional, I am interested in the intersection between health and the built environment and have spent the past 12 years developing and delivering a variety of multi-disciplinary trainings on healthy community design concepts. Walkability is an important aspect of healthy community design. A safe walkable environment promotes physical activity, reduces injury, creates mobility options, and increases connectivity between people and places. This in turn promotes physical and mental health. In essence, it’s a very simple way to promote public health.

What accomplishments are you most proud of from your time serving on the WalkDenver Board?

Zach: WalkDenver has accomplished so much in the four and a half years I’ve been on the board. I’m really proud of the Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign because I saw it grow from tabling and petitioning at events all the way through the Mayor developing a Pedestrian Advisory Committee and most recently the Go Bond passing which included some funding for sidewalks.

What are you looking forward to doing as the new Chair of the WalkDenver Board?

Leanne: I specifically became interested in joining the WalkDenver Governing Board because I was impressed with the work of the staff and their understanding of how walkability is connected to larger community-wide issues such as public health, environmental quality, equity, social connectivity, and economic vitality. Over the past three years, through strong community collaborations, our organization has had significant impact on policies and funding to improve Denver’s pedestrian and street environments. WalkDenver has accomplished quite a lot in a relatively short period of time, and I’m excited about continuing that momentum as the new Chair of the WalkDenver Board, working closely with our Executive Director, Jill Locantore. I’m also looking forward to expanding our connections and building relationships with new community partners.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities related to walkability in Denver?

Zach: Funding is still a critical issue. We still have private property owners responsible for building and maintaining sidewalks and this creates inconsistency in sidewalks across Denver’s neighborhoods. I’d also like to see Denver achieve Vision Zero and eliminate injuries and deaths on our roads.

Leanne: One thing that I see as both an opportunity and a challenge related to walkability in Denver is the boom in development. On one hand, investments in new development may bring improvements to the pedestrian environment. For example, new sidewalks, green space, connections to transit, and destinations within walking distance (housing, restaurants, shops, etc.). On the other hand, a boom in development may also disrupt existing communities and displace long-time residents who find they can no longer afford to live in their neighborhoods, and/or discover that their cultural community no longer exists there. While inequities in our built environment might be addressed through infrastructure improvements to the pedestrian environment, these changes might also be experienced by some communities as a threat. The improvements make the neighborhood a more attractive location, which in turn may attract additional development. The challenge is to promote and provide quality walkable environments while keeping neighborhoods intact and communities in place.

What’s the best place you’ve ever walked?

Zach: In Denver, my favorite place to walk is around Sloan’s Lake. I grew up on Tennyson and I love how you can see the mountains on one side of the lake and Downtown Denver on the other side of the lake.

Leanne: I don’t know about “best” place. I enjoy so many! However, one of my best walkable experiences was where I grew up, Ann Arbor, Michigan. From the time my family moved there when I was seven, until I left after college, I was able to walk just about everywhere I wanted to go. Even at a young age, I could independently walk to school, downtown, to the arboretum (the “Arb”), to the library, to my parents’ offices on the University campus, to my friends’ houses, etc. It is only in hindsight, and from living in other places that I realize how lucky I was to grow up in that environment.

Anything else you’d like to share with WalkDenver’s supporters?

Zach: Thank you to WalkDenver’s board, staff, donors and volunteers for all of your passion and help over the last few years. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Leanne: Thank you for your support! As someone who believe strongly in and practices collaborative leadership, I know that your participation in our endeavors makes us a better and more successful organization. I look forward to opportunities to connect with you while we work to make Denver the most walkable city in the U.S.

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