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March 22 workshop aims to improve area towns’ walkability

— An upcoming workshop aims to start a conversation about making local town centers more welcoming to people who would like to do their shopping on foot, take an evening stroll or find a job without a car.

The free Walkable Town Center workshop, set for March 22 at the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton, will teach participants about topics ranging from creative parking solutions to snow removal to attractive storefronts.

“Walkable town centers have benefits from wellness to economics to tourism to community,” said Todd Ford, executive director of the Hampshire Council of Governments.

The council administers Healthy Hampshire, a Mass in Motion initiative funded by the state Department of Public Health. Healthy Hampshire is sponsoring the workshop.

Ford said he expects the workshop to draw a variety of people including business owners, municipal leaders and citizen activists. He anticipates as many as 50 people will participate. If there is a greater demand, he hopes to bring the workshop back to the area in the future.

Sue Cairn, director of the Strategic Panning Initiative for Families and Youth, which staffs Healthy Hampshire, said she also understands the health benefits of having pedestrian-friendly town centers.

“It’s the idea that the more people move their bodies, the healthier they will be. We want walking to be something that they do as part of their day-to-day activities,” she said.

The workshop content is organized by WalkBoston, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to improving walking conditions across Massachusetts.

Wendy Landman, executive director of WalkBoston, will be one of the presenters. She will discuss the economic advantages of having walkable town centers, and give suggestions on how to enhance walkability.

“Many communities in Massachusetts have town centers. Our historical development makes it a particularly fruitful place to work on this,” she said.

Not only does Landman believe that Massachusetts towns have great potential to develop walkability, but she said that in the past year and a half she has seen a large increase in community interest to do so.

She said that baby boomers have reached the age where they have the time and want to get more exercise, and that car ownership is dropping for people in their 20s.

Steve Cecil, president of The Cecil Group, which works with towns and cities on topics like urban design and land planning, will also be present at the workshop.

Cecil said the key to walkability is at a community level because of each town’s unique needs.

“There is a need to understand how all the parts of an environment and players need to work together to create successful places,” he said.

Jason Schrieber of Nelson/Nygaard, a consulting agency for transportation planning with offices nationwide, will also attend the workshop.

Ford said the workshop is just the first step. He hopes to bring in more resources for further discussion, and to eventually look at practical changes.

Landman hopes to get participants thinking practically before they leave the workshop.

“We will pull up Google Earth and zoom in on the particular places that the participants care about, like a street intersection. We will talk about how it can be changed,” she said.

Space is limited for the workshop. Register by sending an email with your name and contact information to scairn@collaborative.org.

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