Sidewalks are disappearing in urban areas, where they're most necessary. Perhaps this is happening because people have stopped using them or perhaps people have stopped using them because they're disappearing. For years I have returned to my childhood home in New Jersey and when I am there I run. Here the traffic is thick and fast and dangerous. I literally take my life into my hands when I run there. Over the course of 20+ years of running the same routes year after year, I have witnessed the disintegration of sidewalks - they slowly break up, crumble away and disappear - never to be replaced and I am forced to battle it out with the ever increasing and aggressive traffic.
Recently Runner's World ran a piece about the "whiteness" of running - and it got me thinking about something I've thought about many, many times - and that is the "wealthiness" of running. Of course in this country 'whiteness' and 'wealthiness' go hand in hand as many statistics clearly show. It seems that running is most enjoyed by those in the upper income brackets. There are some obvious reasons for this, but it seems that having leisure time and a safe place to run are the main prerequisites for developing the running habit. Other reasons include: disposable income available for gear, and perhaps most importantly, cultural/social support of and encouragement for such pastimes.
There is an amusing blog and book, published several years ago, called "Stuff White People Like" - and I'm sure somewhere on the list must be: Running. If there's also a book out there called "Stuff Fairly Well-Off People Like" running will also be on the list. When I posed this question to many, many runners both in person and online, collecting responses from those in the U.S. and internationally, the response was predictable, but disheartening nonetheless: The almost universal response was: that's the way it is with everything - The Socioeconomic divide is just the way things are, and at least running isn't as bad as golf or skiing or triathlon...
Add to that the fact that we, as a culture, do nothing to encourage that segment (poor or minority) of the society to join us, and the claims discussed above seem just plain ignorant and out of touch. If you live in a place where traffic makes all the streets unsafe to run on and sidewalks are few and far between (and yes, there are places like that - but "fairly well-off people" don't go to those places) then you probably won't run. It's difficult enough to keep up the running habit in the best of circumstances - but when everything is working against you - No time, no money, unsafe environment (in every way), no support - you probably won't do it.
Returning to New Jersey...I run when I'm there. I do it because I must. I do it because I am already a runner. But would I become a runner today had it been like that when I was younger? Would I take up running now if I lived there now? I don't know. But we certainly aren't doing much to spread the good word. We smugly sit back and pat ourselves on the back for making the necessary sacrifices. The fact that this problem exists in everywhere should provide little comfort. Running doesn't require a lot to do. But support and encouragement and inclusion goes a long way.
While Girls on the Run focuses on getting girls running, many of the programs can be found in the inner-city, urban areas. If there isn't one near you, they are always looking for new people to start programs.
Back On My Feet
"Back on My Feet is a nonprofit organization that promotes the self-sufficiency of those experiencing homelessness by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. Back on My Feet (BoMF) does not provide food nor does it provide shelter, but instead provides a community that embraces equality, respect, discipline, teamwork and leadership. All members - regardless of race, education or socioeconomic status - join together to move their own lives forward as well as the lives of their teammates."
|Here's some demographic data for readers of Runner's World: This is not necessarily completely representative of the running community, but it is still telling:|