Senior Beat

Walkability Forum to highlight benefits of walkable communities

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to The Weekly

Sometimes when I ask the location of a place in relation to where I actually am, the response is, “oh, it is within walking distance.” Well, that means different things to different people. Is it 50 feet or 2 miles? I have a friend that is close to 65 years old who posted on Facebook the other day that she had logged 9 miles. Seriously. Not a typo.

I, on the other hand, am not a walker. The biggest reason is a very arthritic and painful ankle (and truth be told, a bad attitude with regard to hoofing it.)

However, if you are a member of the first group and love to put your legs through the paces, you may be interested in a Walkability Forum being conducted by Grow Smart Maine, that will examine how Maine towns and cities can embrace the benefits of walkable communities.

According to the GrowSmart Maine website, the organization was “founded in 2003 in response to widespread concern that Maine was growing in ways that were damaging and destroying the things we love about the state: historic downtowns were being abandoned, suburban subdivisions were taking over farm fields and forest land, mega-school complexes were replacing small neighborhood schools and strip mall development continued to push into rural areas.” Those of you who are my age or older have probably shaken your head at the above scenarios as they occurred.

Karen Marysdaughter, a member of the Downtown Bangor Partnership, an organization that promotes the unique characteristics of beautiful downtown Bangor while encouraging commercial, cultural and residential growth in the Queen City, is a local organizer for the Forum.

“Around the world and right here in Maine, communities are experimenting with ways to make our towns and cities more people-centered, with amazing results,” said Marysdaughter. “I’m looking forward to being inspired by Maine-based examples and really excited to see my community addressing this issue.”

The walkability forum is Tuesday, Sept. 19, from 8:15 a..m. to 12:30 p.m. in various locations, such as the new Bangor Symphony Orchestra practice space in the Nichols Building, the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, Coespace and the First National Bank, in downtown Bangor. The discussion will examine how Maine towns and cities can embrace the benefits of walkable communities. Let’s face it, if you are a walker, you are never without transportation.

The day starts with a light breakfast and networking time in the newly renovated Bangor Arts Exchange in the Nichols Building. Then a panel discussion will give an overview of why walkability matters in communities. Four concurrent break-out sessions will follow that provide success stories and models that can be reproduced in other communities.

“This forum is designed to help communities expand the typical methods of transportation, such as driving, to walking, biking and public transit, as a way to boost health and economic development. More people gathering in public spaces is conducive to good business, and promotes sustainability,” said Marysdaughter. “We will explore many creative ways to help communities develop vibrant and user-friendly villages and downtown areas.”

Attendees will gain resources and connections to transform their hometowns into places where people want to live, work and play.

Good plan. A walkable community is important, not only for residents and their health, but also for local businesses. Think about it. If walking is made safe and easy, you are more likely to do it. Most downtowns have limited parking which can prevent people from frequenting shops and restaurants. How often have you driven around searching for parking, and leaving if a space is not found? A safe way to walk from place to place may be just the ticket for downtown areas.

For GrowSmart Maine members, the forum cost is $25, and for the general public it is $40. But scholarships for travel and registration are available on a first come, first serve basis. Call GrowSmart Maine at (207) 582-4330 for more about that. And visit www.growsmartmaine.org/bangor-walkability- forum for the full scoop on the day’s agenda.

Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at seniorbeat@gmail.com.

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