A total of 24 residents (3 men and 21 women) participated. Focus groups ranged in size from 4 to 13 participants per group (mean, 7 participants). Participants ranged in age from 20 to 65 years. Approximately 75% self-identified as black or African American, and almost all (94%) were born in the United States. Fifty-three percent reported having more than a high school education (primarily some college), 26% had high school/GED completion, and 21% had less than high school. Half of the participants reported working outside the home (31%, full-time; 19%, part-time), 11% self-identified as homemakers, and 39% indicated that they were unemployed (includes retired and disabled participants and homemakers).
Five key themes emerged from the focus group analysis: 1) increased awareness of neighborhood resources, 2) walking for pleasure and utilitarian purposes, 3) perception of distances, 4) community uses of the maps and fostering community, and 5) barriers to map use. Each of these themes is described below.
Increased awareness of neighborhood resources
Participants used the maps for their traditional purpose: to learn where places are and how to get there. Although many participants were already familiar with many of the destinations, they used the maps to help them become more aware of their surroundings, discovering new places in their neighborhood and rediscovering other places. One participant stated,
. . . the more I looked into it . . . I did not know there were so many little things in the surrounding areas.
Very often, participants mixed talking about the walking guide with talking about a love of walking, which was partly inspired by participating in the intervention. Several participants mentioned discovering new things when walking or appreciating their neighborhood more through walking:
I liked seeing the growth of the neighborhood.
It makes you realize that we're in the middle, you know, of the heart of the city. You know, that? We're accessible to everything.
One Latino participant noted that she enjoyed using the map to walk because she discovered things that she had not seen in a long time:
Every time that one walks, one releases the mind . . . looking at the view, the [new] things . . . all the beauty.
Others talked about learning new information from the maps. For example, many participants learned by using the maps that 1 mile is equivalent to walking 4 laps around a standard running track.
Many participants were aware of existing incivilities in their neighborhood, such as garbage and graffiti, and for some residents the maps highlighted these negative aspects of their neighborhood. When using the maps to walk around their neighborhood, participants noticed how poorly maintained it was, having streets that needed to be cleaned up, broken street signs, and broken sidewalks. One participant, noting that the grass along a walking path was high and had not been cut in a while, stated
It should be much nicer kept . . . I don't think a bike path in any other town would be like that.
Others discovered new places that they had not seen. For example, when talking about using the map to walk to a new shopping center, a participant discovered that a new recreation area had been built:
It is beautiful and it has kind of like a little pool too, you know, and I find that it is [a] very interesting place and good [for] exercise . . . very beautiful.
Walking for exercise and utilitarian walking
Focus group participants discussed places they walked to, including destinations that were on the map and others that were not. Participants were eager to talk about all the places they used the map to walk to: downtown, the post office, the drugstore, the supermarket, parks, the library, and community gardens. However, the most commonly reported use of the maps was for PA. Most focus group participants stated that they used the map to increase the amount of walking they did for exercise. Many residents already walked to get from place to place but used the maps to increase their intensity, speed, and motivation:
When you [start walking] first you just wanna get home, but still you want to know that accomplishment. That you accomplished something. That I did this and I walked.
Another participant used to live near a large park in another neighborhood and recently moved to the housing site. She used the guide to help her increase her activity in her new neighborhood.
I can walk in [the new neighborhood] without walking in the park and get the same results.
Several participants noted that they used the walking routes listed on the map in addition to discovering new walking routes. One female participant noted
Well we took advantage of the map because [now] we know how many miles we were walking. We walked around twice the same route that was on the map. For those that didn't want to walk too much. And for those who did wanna walk more, we did the same route over again.
Perception of distances
There was consensus that walking outdoors helped residents become more familiar with their neighborhoods, particularly with respect to changing perception of distances. Several participants stated that, before using the maps, they perceived that taking the bus or driving was easier and faster than walking to many destinations. Several used the walking maps to see how far distances actually were and were quite surprised at how easy and fast it was to get to many of the destinations. For some participants, waiting on the bus could take up to 1 hour; they stated that they now prefer to walk:
I [used] to jump on the bus and go to Walgreens, and now that I know it was that close, I just walk.
I used to drive just to the post office, and that's ridiculous. Really! Now I'm just walking everywhere.
I used to take the bus to the [medical center] . . . I kinda walk now. It's a nice walk. I just [got] used to it.
Some focus group participants discussed how they would reach their destination more quickly walking than by driving:
Sometimes you can beat the bus walking. And you think you're doing a long walk, but if you look at the [map] it's not really that far.
Community uses and fostering community
Several residents also mentioned that the walking map could be a resource for new residents of the neighborhood to help them become familiar with their new surroundings and highlight resources not well-known in the housing community. For example, 1 housing site had a community garden that focus group participants thought few residents were aware of; participants thought that including this information on the map would help new residents know about it.
Specific challenges related to using the maps in each community and ways to address these challenges were discussed. In 1 group, participants brainstormed ideas for distributing maps to new community residents. In particular, they thought the maps would help both newer and older residents learn about the positive history of the neighborhood and possibly encourage a sense of community. In another group, participants discussed the poor outdoor maintenance in their neighborhood and ways they could work together to improve the conditions.
Barriers to map use
The most commonly cited barrier among participants of the focus group that was conducted with map nonusers (primarily older adults) was trouble interpreting the map; these participants found the walking map to be confusing and were unclear as to its purpose. Participants in this group, as well as those of the other groups, thought that one-on-one instruction on how to use the map was needed for many older residents.
Although maps were placed in central areas in each housing site (ie, outdoor, in the community center, near the doors, near the elevators), nonusers of the maps thought that additional maps should have been placed more prominently throughout the housing site to encourage use. A concern was that the highly trafficked areas where the maps were placed created more opportunities for vandalism, an issue that was emphasized by participants in the focus group of older residents.
The number of destinations on the map was mentioned as both a strength and a barrier. For some participants, the number of destinations, landmarks, and information included on the maps were just right. Other participants said they would have used the maps more if more and different destinations were indicated. Participants of only 1 focus group mentioned safety as a barrier to using the maps; these participants specifically suggested that we include a caution note that instructed map users to walk in groups for safety reasons.