Town meeting set to discuss Belen's future

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Residents and visitors of Belen are being asked for their input to make the Hub City's downtown area a safe and beautiful place.

Walkable Belen focuses on individuals walking from the Rail Runner station to work and students walking, biking or driving paths to each of the Belen schools in the district, while increasing the city's attractiveness.

"I say this over and over again: If you make a community safe for children, you make it safe for adults too," said Dubra Karnes-Padilla, director of University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus Fitness and Wellness Education Center.

A Walkable Belen town meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, March 31, at the Belen Public Library.

This meeting is the first of three, which will ask participants for their ideas to revitalize downtown Belen, create walking projects, plan bicycle paths, safe routes to school, community gardens, signage and crosswalks and links to the New Mexico Rail Runner.

This assessment is a collaboration between the Valencia Resiliency Corps and the University of New Mexico's School of Architecture and Planning.

The Resiliency Corps, a youth injury prevention initiative, is a group of individuals who are mobilizing around safety issues affecting youth, Karnes-Padilla said.

These issues are highlighted through the New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey. The survey is a self-reported assessment by New Mexico high school and middle school students to look at health risk behaviors and protective factors, according to the survey's website.

The Resiliency Corps use these statistics to plan and investigate projects needed within Valencia County to aid in decreasing health risk behaviors, including moving safely throughout Belen by biking, driving or walking.

Walkable Belen is funded by a $6,200 grant from the 2012 Pedestrian Safety and Walkability Initiative, sponsored by the New Mexico Department of Transportation Traffic Safety Bureau.

This assessment builds upon results found in a community review by the University of New Mexico Design and Planning Assistance Center and New Mexico MainStreet Program.

Although that review focuses on architectural and structural issues needing to be addressed to revitalize and sustain downtown Belen, one portion focuses on making Belen a "more walkable, safe and youth-friendly environment," stated the assessment's grant proposal.

"We wanted to keep those ideas alive," Karnes-Padilla said.

Although safety is the primary goal of the assessment, it also aims to make the city an attractive area for visitors and residents, which could, in turn, boost economic development, Karnes-Padilla said.

The assessment will also evaluate why visitors are coming to Belen, the services they are using locally and ways they think the city could be made more attractive and safe.

This assessment will provide the necessary information needed to create a design plan needed and wanted in Belen, Karnes-Padilla said.

"We want to give people a chance to voice their concerns and what their vision is for a beautiful Belen and a safe Belen," she said.

Results of the assessment will be presented at a September forum.

Residents can also give their input in an online 15-question survey on Survey Monkey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/WalkableBelen.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.