A conference on walking might at first sound, well, pedestrian.
But talk to the organizers of Walk21 Calgary, and you’ll soon be inspired by their infectious enthusiasm for the subject’s relevance and complexity, by their passion for Calgary’s potential as a more walkable city, and their keenness to gather conference submissions from as wide an array of perspectives as possible. The University of Calgary will host the conference in partnership with the City of Calgary in September 2017.
“Walkability has a big impact in a city, and there are so many implications,” says Francisco Alaniz Uribe, a member of the steering committee and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design. “It can add to our sense of place, it can drive improved physical and mental health outcomes, and it can contribute to a lowering of carbon emissions. It really touches on so many aspects of our day-to-day lives and our shared concerns.”
The annual conference, which was first hosted in London in 2000, not only addresses diverse issues, it also appeals to a wide range of participants. It draws together citizens, urban planners, health-care professionals, local leaders, politicians, and academics from undergraduates to faculty members.
Contributors network, socialize, and participate in ‘walkshops’
Walk21 Calgary will focus on how walking fosters healthy and vibrant communities, and can encourage cities to become more resilient and sustainable in the wake of rapid urban growth. Delegates will experience Calgary’s emerging walkability through "walkshops," symposiums, poster sessions and more, and will be exposed to new ideas about how walking can connect people and communities. The Call for Contributions for Calgary’s Walk21 conference opens Jan. 6 and closes Feb. 10, 2017.
Ryan Martinson, MEng’14, BSc’05, is a sustainable transportation specialist with Stantec who has an academic, professional and personal interest in walking. He has studied it, he measures it, and he plans for it. One of his current projects is the City of Calgary’s LRT Green Line, in particular ensuring it is compatible with walking. He is also on the Walk21 steering committee, and he’s been to several of the conferences before.
“They do a very good job of mixing academics, professionals and advocates all together,” he says. “It’s very social, and it’s a really refreshing thing, to hear all those viewpoints in one place.”
Walk21 can spark innovation too. “I saw some research at the Walk21 conference in Vienna, around how to measure walking, the catchments, the amount of area you can walk within a five- to ten-minute timeframe, and that analysis was quite cool,” Martinson says. “That’s insight I’ve been bringing to my work since.”
“I remember a politician from Reykjavik who presented at one conference; she talked about making a four-lane highway more pedestrian-friendly and how painful that was in the beginning,” Uribe says. “She described the process of getting public buy-in, of facing resistance from businesses. And then with time the community began to embrace the change. That was fascinating to hear first-hand.”
A Calgary in transition plays host
Calgary may not yet be as walkable as some former Walk21 host cities such as Vienna, Sydney, or London. “Calgary is on the cusp of changing from a city focused on low-density, suburban type of development,” Uribe says. “Having this conference in places that are not there yet — that still have challenges and are trying to find their way — it’s also very important.”
“This is a good time in our story of becoming more walkable,” says Jen Malzer, a pedestrian engineer with the City of Calgary, which has just approved its first walking plan, STEP FORWARD, this spring. Malzer, among other City employees, sits on the Walk21 steering committee and is looking for ways to collaborate on projects with university students.
“We are testing whether we can build some of the term projects from EVDS,” Malzer says. Beginning in January, she plans to follow a landscape architecture class as they develop solutions with the community of Bridgeland to reinvent the community eyesore which is the space beneath the 4th Avenue flyover. “I think it will be a great legacy for Walk21 Calgary if we can demonstrate that we can build our own City-led projects, but also student- and community-led projects.”
Walk21 Calgary will examine how walking fosters healthy and vibrant communities, and can encourage cities to become more resilient and sustainable in the wake of rapid urban growth. From Sept. 19-22, 2017, Walk21 Calgary will draw citizens, academics, urban planners, health-care professionals, and local leaders to experience Calgary’s emerging walkability, and be exposed to new ideas about how walking can connect people and communities. The Call for Contributions opens Jan. 6, 2017.