New community recognition program puts pedestrians first
TORONTO - Green Communities Canada today launched WALK Friendly Ontario, a designation program that recognizes municipal excellence in walkability. By awarding Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum designations to towns and cities from across Ontario, WALK Friendly Ontario will stimulate action to make communities safer and more enjoyable places to walk.
The designation is timely: after years on the sidelines, interest in walkability is now on the rise. Major corporations are relocating to walk-friendly downtown locations, home-seekers are identifying walkability as a priority, and Walkscores now appear regularly on real estate listings. Many municipalities are taking action in response.
"WALK Friendly Ontario will provide much-deserved recognition for municipalities that are working hard to improve the walking experience," explained program co-founder Kate Hall, "but the benefits don't stop there. Just by completing the application for designation, communities will benchmark where they stand on more than 200 key walkability indicators, a useful guide as they plan for improvement."
Sidewalk policies and infrastructure, street festivals, public art, staff training, citizen engagement, and attractive public spaces are just a few of the criteria that applicants will report on, before their applications are reviewed and scored by a panel of experts.
"People who engage in physical activity are healthier, happier and live longer, which is why keeping Ontario healthy is a key part of our Action Plan for Health Care," said the Honourable Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. "Walking is an easy and inexpensive way for people to meet their daily physical activity requirements, and helps to prevent chronic disease." In keeping with these health benefits, supporters for the program also include the Ontario Medical Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
The WALK Friendly application was pilot tested in 2012 by five communities - Hamilton, Kingston, Thunder Bay, London and Fort Erie - and all gave it positive reviews. Now that the designation is officially launched all five have said they plan to apply. The first round of applications will be accepted between July 1st and August 31st. The Application Guide to help communities prepare is available at www.walkfriendly.ca.