Keeping Pace In Calgary: What We Learned From Walk21

October 5, 2017

Calgary is gaining speed as a walkable city, and we couldn’t be prouder to be part of its steps into a pedestrian-powered future.

Every year the Walk21—short for walking in the 21st century— conference is held in different worldwide locations, drawing diverse presenters and delegates from academic backgrounds, and attracts advocates, policy makers, and those interested in walking.  The conference is centered on identifying how both people and communities can champion walking, and why walkability should become a focus in their design. The conference’s mix of expertise and sectors is what makes it powerful—it brings together people who might not normally cross paths, making for conversations that touch on numerous aspects of why walking is important.

From wellness based conversations on the incredible benefits of walking, to urban design and economic value of walkability—the conference is an opportunity unlike any other to witness the future pedestrian-centered life and understand how it plays an important role in our health, wealth and happiness. This year’s conference offered insights into what’s to come in our communities.

As a community focused on accessible living and championing walkability for our own residents and neighbours, we were excited that Calgary was home to this year’s Walk21 conference, and delighted that our neighbours at University of Calgary were selected to host it.

Gavin McCormack, Walk21 co-chair and Associate Professor from Faculty of Environmental Design at University of Calgary was thrilled to comment on what a Calgary-hosted conference means for the city.

“ University of Calgary hosting Walk21 this year is a big deal. Typically Walk21 is hosted by cities that are very walkable—including numerous cities in Europe as well as Vancouver, Toronto, Sydney and Melbourne— so it’s excellent that Calgary managed to get Walk21. This might be because Calgary is a modern city, and while it has been historically car-focused, things have moved differently here than in other cities. We’re unique in that we’re demonstrating a very strong focus in terms of trying to make the city more walkable and livable. “

From lectures and tours to interactive experiences, Walk21 offered learning in all shapes and forms, and came from multiple perspectives.

Here are some our favourite lessons learned from this year’s Walk21:

Art, design and utility can come together, and urban spaces might be their ideal home.

The great outdoors and walkable spaces are great places for public art, and provide lots of room for imaginations to run wild.

A creative example of how art and utility can come together in an urban space is Walk21’s Furbaniture— a futuristic interpretation of stylistic furniture in public spaces.

Pedestrian-friendly places and attractive spaces make areas more walkable, and pathway features like benches are essential in giving walkers a place to rest and socialize. Projects like Furbaniture suggest that typical, everyday community features can be transformed into dual-purpose objects—in this case, furniture as a form of expressive art.

A walkable community designed for the least mobile among us is one that we can all enjoy.

When asked about walkability trends growing in Calgary, Gavin McCormack reinforced the importance of considering our population as a whole when planning a neighbourhood’s design— a major topic throughout this year’s Walk21 discussions.

“A key focus for the city in general is creating communities that are walkable. A major aspect of intelligent planning for urban spaces is trying to maintain walkability for those who have needs, including older populations, kids, and those with mobility challenges. If you create a community that’s walkable for mobility challenged individuals, you create a community that’s walkable for all, and that’s something to celebrate.”

The most walkable communities come from design that includes multiple perspectives.

The beauty of Walk21 comes from its multiple perspectives, interests and talents converging together from differing sectors and uniting over a common goal—making communities easier to walk.

Communities that are successful are the ones that really involve multiple sectors and multiple groups out of the community. Not just one party, but open-minded community consulting and understanding the history and composition of surrounding neighbourhoods are what make a community successful and ultimately walkable.

 People can champion walkability in their own communities and be the change they want to see.

Walkability is something that people can advocate for, and Gavin notes that this is a common good that impacts all of us.

“To champion walkability in their own neighbourhoods, people can reach out to community associations if they want to advocate for change—whether it’s a cracked sidewalk or a street that doesn’t seem well lit, communities can reach out to their municipalities and exact change where they live.”

This year’s Walk21 conference may have completed, but the importance of the gathering lives on, and the wisdom gained will continue to support the growth of communities everywhere. The future is walker-friendly and we can’t wait to see what it brings to U/D.

What was your favourite part of Walk21? Have a story to share or thoughts on a favourite speaker? Let us know on Twitter!

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