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Summit examines how to make Western New York more walkable

Avery Schneider
WBFO News File Photo
Walkers can often be seen taking a stroll at Canalside.

Realtors say walkable communities are where people want to live, which is why the Annual Walkability Summit is meeting at the Buffalo Grand Hotel this week.

The event Thursday and Friday from the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo and partners is looking at how each community can make it easier for residents to walk around and live with less use of cars. There were people in the audience looking at changes in their own communities to make them more walkable and bring back the community central business district.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Thursday's lead speaker, Ian Thomas, is national and local program director for America Walks. Thomas said older communities can return to their historical roots.
"The easiest part is the old city, the part of the city that was built in the 19th century and the early 20th century, before cars took over," he said. "Those old downtown areas, sometimes they're a bit dilapidated, sometimes the businesses have left, but they can be brought back, as I discussed with Batesville. They've got the bones. They've got narrowish streets. They've got beautiful buildings, multi-story buildings."

Thomas told the audience about Batesville, AR, which had seen its central business district erased by the big box store just outside. He said citizens brought the community and its central business district back by stressing walkability and the advantages of new housing and its attractions right downtown.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"We want to bring back the businesses back into the area so that we can be walkable community," said Imagine Forestville Organizer Aimee Rogers. "We are really walkable. We only have 700 people in our town and people do walk all the time, but we are expanding then not only a historic survey being done right on in our community, hopefully establishes a historic district but also a walking trail."

Hamburg Village Special Program Coordinator Paul Becker said his village is close to construction.

"To have our zoning code redone, to allow more mixed-use development, so we can get higher density housing in the community, over the next 10, 15, 20 years," Becker said. "So we haven't built anything specifically yet, although we've got new businesses that have come in and taken up vacant space, over the past five years."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.