Buffalo is a leading contender to host the 2019 National Walking Summit, organized by a national nonprofit group that has advocated walking and walkable communities throughout the United States for two decades.
Washington, D.C., hosted the first two biannual summits, and St. Paul, Minn., hosted the last one, in 2017.
M. Katharine Kraft, executive director of America Walks, based in Portland, Ore., confirmed this week that the organization is interested in downtown Buffalo for the next multiple-day gathering.
“When I visited in February, it was clear there was some very impressive walkability and livability efforts being developed in Buffalo, so we began some conversations,” Kraft told The Buffalo News. “We are currently exploring whether or not we can find enough sponsors to help organize and finance a Buffalo Summit.”
Kraft said she’s liked what she's seen during a couple of visits to the region the last year.
“I think you have an impressive greenway and park system to help support recreational walking, and engaged communities and neighborhoods looking to create walkable main streets and pockets of pedestrian activity,” she said. “All of this is supported by a developing bike infrastructure. We’d like to highlight this by coming to Buffalo next year.”
She also pointed out that walking is the most accessible physical activity for nearly everyone.
About 700 participants from Western New York and around the country would attend the summit, including city planners, transportation experts, public health staff, walkability advocates and elected officials.
L. Philip Haberstro, executive director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, and Sarah K. Martin, an institute staff member who has completed an American Walks fellowship, are coordinating the effort to bring the summit to the region. Visit Buffalo Niagara staff and community leaders Paul Maurer and Mike Billoni are helping.
“We’re eager to showcase our region in 2019 as one that has all the attributes of a walkable community, both in Buffalo’s diverse neighborhoods, our suburbs and rural communities,” Haberstro said. “The visit by so many professionals engaged in best practices for a robust city on the move will be very good for us to experience.”
Haberstro said natural financial supporters for an “International Walking Summit – Buffalo 2019” would include organizations, businesses, colleges and foundations in the region and southern Ontario involved in health promotion, health insurance, transportation, engineering and walkable community planning activities. Two health insurers, including BlueCross BlueShield of Minnesota, were the top sponsors of last year’s summit in St. Paul.
The summit would feature a community walking challenge for participants, sponsors and residents. Off-site learning workshops can be built into the summit as part of a sponsorship commitment. It would run in September or October 2019, Kraft said.
For more information on summit-related support and advocacy, call the Wellness Institute at 851 4052, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/WalkBuffaloNiagara. More information about America Walks can be found online at americawalks.org.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon