There’s a paradoxical phrase that occasionally pops up in Healthy Places by Design team meetings: “Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.” We use it to describe processes that benefit from thoughtful, upfront planning—even if it slows things down at first—so that the rest of the work will (ideally) go more smoothly. It’s also a useful way of naming what could feel like a frustratingly slow pace in our productivity-driven culture.
I’ve found myself reflecting again on the meaning of “go slow to go fast” as it relates to COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. The pandemic has slowed us down as we’ve cancelled events, stayed home, and found creative ways to socialize and entertain ourselves while being physically distant. Meanwhile, there are urgent calls from more people than ever to address longstanding systemic racism and oppression. The pandemic asked us to slow down and reflect; yet while many of us are taking time to listen, learn, and unlearn, people are losing their lives to the pandemic and to racist systems. These concurrent events create a tension between going fast and going slow.
This tension affects our work, too. The Alamance Wellness Collaborative (AWC), a multidisciplinary coalition of professional leaders across Alamance County, NC, is navigating this tension in innovative ways. Co-led by Healthy Alamance, Impact Alamance and Healthy Places by Design, AWC was meeting face-to-face monthly for over five years. Those in-person meetings generated trust, built relationships and camaraderie, and improved strategic planning. They also helped create policy and infrastructure changes throughout the county that increased access to healthy, safe options for children and families to play, find healthy food options, and generate new conversations with decision makers that continue to shift thinking in order to create a healthier Alamance County.
Then—along with everyone else in the world—the pandemic forced us to move those in-person meetings to a virtual platform. Although this change has slowed our work down in some ways, conversations among AWC members are still full of passion, and many people want to do more than just help their communities survive; they want to see them thrive. This requires learning new ways of working. Luckily, the group is committed to a culture of learning, one of Healthy Places by Design’s Six Essential Practices for meaningful community change.
The AWC adapted its approach by creating additional learning opportunities around two topics: race and planning. To start, we are referencing the podcast Scene on Radio: Seeing White and the Strong Towns Academy course. Like a virtual book club, members meet after doing their own learning to have candid conversations that link the topics to their own experiences in Alamance County. The intent is not only to learn together, but to also consider innovative strategies to change policies, infrastructure, and culture and explore new ways to support economic health, physical health, and social justice. By seeing the shift to a virtual platform as an opportunity to try something new, the AWC has been able to explore race and planning in more depth than was previously possible.
Despite the tension and uncertainty of the last few months, AWC members have stayed grounded and thoughtful as they work toward their mission to promote and advocate for safe and accessible environments that support a culture of active living and healthy eating. They recognize that with or without a pandemic, there are no shortcuts to community engagement, relationship building, or gaining and keeping trust—and sometimes, you have to go slow to go fast.