Community Animators and Participatory Planning: Engaging School Communities in Active School Travel (AST)

Key Takeaways:

  • Community champions are trusted and engaged members of the community such as teachers or people with previous experience in urban planning, or activism. Involving these individuals in the planning process may bridge a gap between community members and local governments when planning and implementing active transportation projects.
  • Local community champions recruited for Families and Educators for Safe Cycling Project (FESC) were integral to the success of local active transportation projects. In communities where the local governments maintained the relationship with the champions over the entire two-year period of the pilot program, the champions reported an increased sense of trust between the community and the local government.
  • Local community champions facilitated engagement within school communities related to walking and biking and relayed community input to the local government in public meetings, surveys, and focus groups. They bridged a gap among the city staff, the non-profit organization (CultureLink), and local school communities by acting as a mediator – explaining the planning process to community members unfamiliar with it and engaging youth. They would elevate community feedback and concerns to city staff.
  • The most successful champions were community animators and had three core characteristics:  they were passionate about walking and biking; they had relationships with key stakeholders -school communities, the planning department, and community-based organizations; and they encouraged engagement from other community members.
  • Community champions have the opportunity to deepen public engagement activities due to their intimate knowledge of local connections and identify community members who may find it challenging to engage in the traditional planning process but should be included.


  • City planning departments should identify local champions who are embedded in a school community and possess local knowledge and relationships to help engage communities on active transportation projects.  
  • Safe Routes to School program coordinators are in a prime position to act as champions of local school communities bridging the gap between school community needs regarding walking and biking and local governments that can facilitate projects.



  • This is a program evaluation of a pilot program, Families and Educators for Safe Cycling Project (FESC), in Toronto, Canada that took place from 2018 to 2020. The program aimed to engage school communities in active transportation planning. The program identified champions within the school community who had a special interest in improving walking and biking.
  • Researchers conducted interviews with participants who were engaged during the pilot program to understand the effectiveness of the program and the role of champions as advocates.



Whitney, Ryan Anders, and Trudy Ledsham. “Community Animators and Participatory Planning: Engaging School Communities in Active School Travel (AST).” Journal of the American Planning Association, August 29, 2023, 1–13.

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