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2008 03 11
The Poetics of Walking

A weekend or two ago I had the pleasure of speaking at the Walk 21 Toronto Community Conference, organized by the City of Toronto, the Toronto Coalition for Active Transporation (TCAT) and Spacing Magazine. This conference was a one-day reprise of the longer Walk21 Toronto 2007 conference held last October, only where the 2007 event attracted mainly professionals and academics, this version was free and open to the public. The response to the conference announcement was huge: by March 1st, the organizers had booked and filled Metro Hall's largest public space. And this response was hardly surprising: there is considerable interest among Toronto's citizens for alternatives to car-choked commutes, for safe and accessible streets, for walkable neighbourhoods, and for a healthier and more sustainable city.

Conference speakers addressed multiple conference themes. The morning's speakers focused on health, physiology, and urban design, and included Dr. Gillian Booth, speaking about the Toronto Diabetes Atlas, Dr. Yue Li on Temperature and Pedestrian Walking Speed (a fascinating presentation using data collected along Toronto's University avenue), and Paul Young, connecting urban design and health outcomes. The afternoon's sessions turned to other walking-related themse. The 'Revitalizing Streets' session featured Chris Hardwicke discussing a plan for creating walkable environments along suburban arterial roads in the east end of the city, and Gord Brown talking about his group's advocacy of pedestrian-centred design as part of College Street's revitalization. During the 'Going Places!' session, researcher Jennifer Niece spoke about the influence of neighbourhood design on the rates of children walking to school (she found that even modest design improvements can encourage walking), and Smart Commute's executive director Brian Shifman reviewed challenges and successes of encouraging walking to work, even in the suburban environments of north Toronto and Vaughan. I closed out the afternoon by talking about the poetics of walking (see Youtube clip, above, created by conference-goer Himy Syed), followed by a literary walking tour of Kensington Market -- which I'll be expanding and reprising as part of Jane's Walk in early May.

Conference coordinator Matthew Cowley has indicated that conference slides, images and texts will soon be made available through the City of Toronto's Walk21 website, meaning that even if you weren't able to attend the conference, you can still view presentation materials.

[Amy Lavender Harris is the author of Imagining Toronto, forthcoming from Mansfield Press. She writes regularly for Reading Toronto about Toronto literature and the imaginative qualities of cities.]

[Youtube video clip created by Himy Syed.]

[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 03/11 at 10:33 AM

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