A Mile In Our Shoes

Stories about Transportation and Equity

What’s it like to walk a mile in your shoes?

It’s a simple question, but one that we rarely ask, or answer, in a public context. Important issues like racial and class equity in employment, housing and transportation can quickly become a numbers game. And numbers are important, especially when they tell a critical story about persistent disparities in our community. But what do numbers tell us about the people we do or don’t encounter in our daily lives? And how can storytelling begin to connect important policy decisions and the impact they have on real people?

A Mile In Our Shoes was a participatory installation in a storefront window near the corner of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The project emerged from these open-ended questions and from conversations we had about these questions with other volunteers from EquityNowTC, a group we joined after returning from PolicyLink’s Equity Summit 2011 in Detroit.

A burning question we had as a group was: How can we humanize racial and income equity gaps that exist in Minnesota, as well tell the stories of the emerging cross-sector work that is addressing systemic inequities in our region?

Our approach was simple: we extended an invitation to the people who live and work near the corner of Lake and Chicago to contribute a pair of shoes to our project, and to tell us a story about what it’s like to walk in those shoes.

In just two weeks we received fourteen responses, each one surprising and moving. We received stories about daily challenges stemming from a lack of affordable housing near public transportation hubs. Stories of pride in overcoming those challenges. Stories recognizing that we all walk in the footsteps of those before us. And stories of privilege, of realizing that some of us actually benefit from the inequities that leave others behind. Pairs of their shoes were displayed alongside excerpts from their stories in a window at Robert's Shoe Store, encouraging passersby to consider the experiences of others in their neighborhood.

These stories and shoes help to illuminate the personal dimensions of transportation equity in the Twin Cities. A series of transportation equity "conversation cards" were also created and distributed as part of the installation, encouraging others to keep the conversation going and providing statistics on the state of transportation equity in the Twin Cities region.

After the installation we created a companion book for this project that documented the installation and provided additional resources and information about transportation equity.