Learn From A Leader: Encourage healthful walking with helpful signage


Many factors contribute to our health, including genetic predispositions, access to quality medical treatment, and even the amount of sleep we get.

But have you ever thought about how your neighborhood affects your health?

“Social determinants of health” is the term for every external condition in which we are born, grow, work, and age. These include our relationships with family and friends, our employment opportunities, our socioeconomic status, and—of particular interest to ioby—our neighborhood amenities, like public transit, affordable fresh food, exercise options, and nutrition education. People who live in zip codes that have these things are likely to enjoy good health; in areas without them, residents are likely to struggle with with chronic illnesses like obesity and diabetes.

The good news about these neighborhood-based social determinants of health is that we have the power to change them! Every day, citizen leaders (like you!) are taking small steps toward big change by making their neighborhoods healthier, one block at a time. And this summer, ioby is partnering with the New York State Health Foundation to help local leaders in nine regions get their ideas for healthy change off the ground by providing fundraising training and dollar-for-dollar matching funds! Read more about the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge and how to apply.

Want to get involved but need some inspiration? Our Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge Learn from a Leader blog series is profiling past ioby Leaders whose projects exemplify what we’re looking for from applicants: projects that focus on healthy food, active transport, green spaces, fighting disease, or some combination. Read on, and imagine how your neighborhood could benefit!




About the project:

Walk This Way, Caminale is a series of street signs on historic Central Avenue in Los Angeles, developed by local students from Jefferson High School, that tell pedestrians how long it takes to walk or bike from where they are to nearby amenities, landmarks, and neighborhoods. The signs aim to get people walking and biking for longer distances than they thought they could, and to change the perception that Los Angeles is impractical to navigate without a car.

“This part of South Central has a much higher rate of obesity than other parts of L.A.,” says Colleen Corcoran of Los Angeles Walks, who led the project. “There’s a lack of healthy food, recreation opportunities… A lot of residents already walk or bike out of necessity, but we wanted the signs to encourage them to go for longer distances, and with health and recreation in mind, rather than just getting to work or running errands. The area was also a prime location for a project like this because we found a lot of community interest there, but not necessarily the local funding for people to do it on their own.”
Central Ave installed

The steps:

  1. Don’t go it alone. Identify some community partners. We wouldn’t have succeeded if we hadn’t worked with the National Health Foundation (NHF) and their Health Academy students at Jefferson High, as well as the City Council Office, and numerous other community organizations in the area. Approach organizations who work in your target neighborhood and know it well.
  2. Survey says… Ask people walking on the street questions like why they’re walking, where they’re going, if they would like to see walking and biking times posted, etc. These will help reveal the most popular destinations in your neighborhood and inform what should go on your signage. (A little later in this process, you can survey people again—to ask them what they think of your sign designs.)
  3. Design-a-Sign. Involve your community partners (and a professional designer, if you choose) in deciding what destinations to include on your signs, and the language and symbols to describe them. Get outside and do a “community asset walk” together to identify a well-rounded collection of places: parks, historic sites, city offices and community spaces, farmers markets, adjacent neighborhoods, etc. (We didn’t shout out specific businesses, but did say things like, “Healthy tacos: 15 minute walk.”) Then talk about your color palette, font styles, and icons (what symbol should represent a green space? a historic site?). You can tailor these choices to your area—in our case, we thought about how to represent South Central’s rich jazz history in our signs’ design.
  4. Locate & fabricate. We worked with L.A.’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to identify the best locations for our signs. It’s important to get expert help with this so your signs don’t wind up interfering with existing city signage, traffic lights, or other infrastructure. DOT can also advise you about how best to install the signs for maximum longevity. Then, we worked with a vendor recommended to us by DOT to fabricate our signs.
  5. Install & enjoy! Our sign vendor helped our students to install the signs, which can be a great hands-on learning experience. And NHF organized a post-installation community walk to show the signs off; students were invited to present to attendees about their role in the project.




The work of surveying, designing, fabricating, and installing took us a few months. Depending on the size of your city and the number of partners you work with, the outreach piece can take longer, since there’s a lot of back-and-forth communication. Altogether, maybe six months.


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We raised about $8,000 through our ioby campaign and spent about $7,000. Paying for professional design and fabrication help accounted for roughly half the total; most of the rest went to outreach activities like organizing events, making copies, buying materials for design sessions, getting maps, printing surveys, etc. Budget a few hundred dollars for each event, and a thousand or more to hire a professional designer. In general, we got a lot of volunteer help; your costs might be higher if you have to pay for more things out of pocket.

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Additional resources:

– Walk This Way, Caminale was based on the Walk Your City signage in Raleigh, North Carolina. Their Sign Builder lets anyone design signs for their neighborhood!

– Their founder, Matt Tomasulo, had a lot of good advice for us about where to put our signs and what they should say.


Colleen Corcoran

About the author:

Colleen Corcoran is a graphic designer from Texas, living and working in Los Angeles on projects that examine the use of design as a tool for education and positive change within the urban environment. She works with various community organizations and public agencies on projects that promote active transportation, human-centric public policies, and economic and social justice. Colleen is a co-founder of LA’s regular open streets event CicLAvia and currently serves on the steering committee of the pedestrian advocacy organization Los Angeles Walks. She can also be found along the banks of the Arroyo Seco or the window seat of the Metro bus.

Feeling fired up about time-to-walk signage, or another project that could make your neighborhood healthier? Learn more about the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge and apply for fundraising training and matching dollars now!