Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January/February 2016
Walking Cities
By: Rufus McKinney
It's a fact!  Planners and their delegates don't want to sit cooped up in a conference room for three or four days, no matter how well the seminars are organized and how valuable the information they offer.  Meetings are more productive and enjoyable when attendees have an opportunity to move about and experience the destination first hand. One of the best ways to make this happen is by including healthy walking activities into your program agenda.  Here are some cities that are ideal to explore on foot.

PHILADELPHIA- Accessible and Award-Winning

Philadelphia is the most talked about city in America right now. Racking up accolades both national and international, the country's first World Heritage City was also ranked No. 3 on the New York Times' list of 52 Places to Go in 2015. And with impeccable urban planning, it's no surprise that Philadelphia also secured the title of Walk Score's "4th Most Walkable City in America."

At the heart of it all? The Pennsylvania Convention Center, steps from the city's most exciting attractions, and less than a day's drive from 40 percent of America's population. The LEED-certified facility also features one million sq. ft. of saleable space, the ability to host two major tradeshows simultaneously, the largest ballroom in the Northeast, and a soaring Grand Hall in a historic train shed.

The Convention Center also boasts progressive work rules and expanded exhibitor rights. Under the charge of leading facility management firm SMG, who manages more than 240 facilities across the nation, Philadelphia employs the industry's best practices. Making a concerted effort to listen - and respond - to customers, SMG has streamlined many functions such as labor, security, and cleaning since 2013. Additional improvements to the building management model, union work rules and contractor/billing transparency, have resulted in major convention bookings such as the National Black MBA Association in 2017, LIGHTFAIR International in 2017, the Biotechnology Industry Organization annual international convention in 2019, and the American Heart Association in 2019.

Planning these events is a breeze with the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), and if you're bringing in a cultural, life sciences, or sports group, dedicated departments- PHLDiversity, PHLLife, and PHLSports- can help planners increase attendance and grow sponsorship opportunities. Pioneered as the first multicultural arm of an American CVB in 1987, PHLDiversity leads the industry in courting and executing diversity-driven meetings. Assisting with programming and speakers, media outreach, customized microsites, and targeted e-marketing campaigns, meeting planners are often astounded by these PHLCVB services.

Convention attendees will be equally impressed by all Philadelphia offers within walking distance of the Convention Center. Just across the street is the Reading Terminal Market, America's oldest continuously operating farmers market where more than 80 diverse merchants sell their wares including Pennsylvania Dutch fare, Alan Richman's "Best Sandwich in America," and Ms. Tootsie's nationally-known soul food.

Less than half a mile from the Convention Center, attendees will find The African American Museum in Philadelphia, one of Out Traveler's 'Top Social Justice Museums' and just two blocks further, the open-air attraction "President's House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation," pays homage to nine slaves who served President Washington's household.

Getting to Philadelphia is just as easy as getting around in the city. A sophisticated regional rail and subway network links the Philadelphia International Airport - with 30 airlines and nearly 550 daily departures to 126 cities, including 39 international destinations - to Amtrak's 30th Street Station, the Convention Center and downtown Philadelphia.

Blending historic appeal with modern amenities, Philadelphia's walkable streets are here to be explored!

MIAMI - Picturesque Winter Playground

Miami Beach, Florida's picturesque winter playground, has blossomed into a sophisticated community that's full of visitors no matter the season.   And with good reason.  Not only is Miami Beach home to world class accommodations - everything from a boutique hotel in a restored deco building, to an oceanfront resort - it boasts museums, great shopping, spectacular dining and picturesque parks.  All of which are easily accessible on foot.

Located within Miami Beach, South Beach stands on its own.  Called the American Riviera and an Art Deco Playground, South Beach offers an eclectic mix of world-class boutiques, galleries and stores that are best explored on self-guided walking tours.  Take a stroll down Lincoln Road for the best people watching in Miami or cozy up to a fancy bar with haute cocktails.

Nestled in the heart of all this is the state-of-the-art Miami Beach Convention Center, within walking distance of beautiful beaches, eclectic shopping, fine dining and upscale resorts Newly reimagined for 2018, the facility is undergoing a $500-million state-of-the-art transformation.  The center, featuring 500,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and a 60,000-sq. ft. ballroom, is within one mile of 7,564 hotel rooms and only 12 miles from Miami International Airport.

No trip to Miami would be complete without venturing into the city's ethnic enclaves.  Not to be missed is Overtown, with its rich history of Black culture, colorful murals of African-American heroes, and the historic Lyric Theater.  The Lyric Theater was the anchor of the area once known as "Little Broadway" and hosted performances by such big names as Count Basie, Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin.  The Lyric Theater thrived between 1913 and the 1960s, but the facility went through a lull after that. Today, the Lyric Theater is reopened, renovated and working to reclaim its former glory.

Overtown is also home to local favorites like Jackson Soul Food, People's Bar-B-Que, non-profit music projects, arts festivals, farmers markets and more.

The Miami neighborhood known as Little Haiti is the cultural heart for the Haitian Diaspora and another must for your itinerary. The area boasts art galleries, Haitian book and music stores and the Little Haiti Cultural Center, which hosts dance and theater performance.  Explore Little Haiti, an authentic and not particularly touristy Miami ethnic neighborhood, for its sincerity and authenticity.

And for a slice of Cuban culture, Little Havana offers colorful murals, monuments to heroes past and present, elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics and cigar rollers deep at work amidst Little Havana's ever-present aroma of Cuban coffee.  Be sure to wander down Calle Ocho, the main drag of Little Havana, where fruit stands, art galleries, Cuban restaurants and cigar shops line the avenue, and Walkway of the Stars, which honors Latin American celebrities including Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz.

Let's not forget Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Downtown Miami, Key Biscayne - the possibilities are endless - for you to explore, or the numerous organized options like the Culinary Walking Tour for the foodies among your delegates.

ST. LOUIS - Rich African-American History & Culture Abounds

Journey to the top of the iconic Gateway Arch, interact with butterflies, try your hand at some science experiments or immerse yourself in a little arts and culture - it's all in a day's fun in St. Louis, Missouri. From sports and shopping to tours and attractions, St. Louis has it all.

Located in the heart of the downtown district, the recently renovated America's Center Convention Complex is home to four distinct meeting facilities under one roof: Cervantes Convention Center, the Edward Jones Dome, the St. Louis Executive Conference Center and the Ferrara Theatre. In addition, the convention center features five exhibit halls, a ballroom and more than 80 meeting rooms.

St. Louisans of African descent have played a large role in the area's development since St. Louis was founded in 1764. Early census figures show Blacks, both free and enslaved, lived in St. Louis from its earliest days under French and Spanish colonial rule. In fact, Black settlers were listed among those killed defending St. Louis from the British in the Revolutionary War Battle of Fort San Carlos, which took place on what are now the Gateway Arch grounds.

African-American history and culture is documented in many area attractions and points of interest.  The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission offers a three-day African-American History itinerary that meeting planners and their delegates can use for self-guided tours during pre- and post conference free time.  A small sampling of the popular sites included are:  the Old Courthouse, site of Dred Scott's historic slavery trial; the Museum of Westward Expansion, located beneath the Arch, has a display on the Buffalo Soldiers and other Black pioneers who conquered the western plains; The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, named after a free African-American St. Louisan who helped slaves flee to freedom; Griot Museum of Black History and Culture,  where you can view lifelike figures of African-American leaders, scholars and entertainers who had strong roots in Missouri; Scott Joplin House, a National Historic Landmark that was home to the composer from 1900 to1903; First Baptist Church of St. Louis, which became the first Black church in St. Louis in 1818; and the Katherine Dunham Museum, which includes a personal collection of artifacts from around the world and memorabilia from Dunham's dance and activist eras.

The St. Louis Walk of Fame is another possibility for visitors to utilize their walking shoes.   This series of stars and plaques is set in the sidewalks along Delmar Boulevard in the dynamic Loop neighborhood to honor St. Louisans - past and present - who have made significant contributions to life in America. African-Americans honored on the Walk of Fame include baseball stars Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and James "Cool Papa" Bell; writer Maya Angelou; entertainer Josephine Baker; musicians Chuck Berry, Johnnie Johnson, Nelly, and Ike & Tina Turner; gospel singer Willie Mae Ford Smith; jazz greats Miles Davis and Clark Terry; opera star Grace Bumbry; ragtime musician Scott Joplin; dancer/choreographer Katherine Dunham; and actor/comedian Redd Foxx.

LOS ANGELES, a City of Walkable Neighborhoods

Known as a "city of cities, "Los Angeles' distinct neighborhoods and neighboring cities are easily walkable destinations within themselves, filled with uniquely L.A. experiences. From hip Venice and vibrant Hollywood to thriving Downtown and the culturally rich Westside, Los Angeles truly offers something for every taste and interest. 

LA's climate has often been described "perfect" and with good reason - the City of Angels boasts nearly 300 days of warm sunshine with gentle ocean breezes.  Also touted as the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles offers myriad attractions and activities: movie studios, the Sunset Strip, Venice Beach, Hollywood Walk of Fame, world-famous theme parks, wineries, breweries, exciting nightlife and much more.

The city's arts and culture scene is one of the best in the world boasting 106 museums including the California African American Museum (CAAM), The Broad, Getty Center, Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Arts (LACMA) and the Autry National. There are 52 major performing arts venues including the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. Visitors can discover 35 major libraries and archives including the Huntington Library and more, totaling more than 2,700 culture options.

Foodies worldwide have taken notice of LA's trend-setting restaurants and newsworthy Chefs. As one of the most culturally diverse cities in the entire world, the benefits are reflected in the city's global food renaissance.

And to top it off, LA offers miles of stunning coastlines and beaches including Hermosa Beach, Manhattan, Marina Delay Ray and Santa Monica - all with a classic Southern California beach city vibe.

For the African-American market in particular, LA Tourism's robust marketing program engages multiple business and consumer platforms and spreads the word far and wide about the city's many offerings.

LA launched a dedicated African-American microsite featuring up-to-date, fresh content highlighting history, events and significant landmarks. The site also boasts a Black History Month itinerary, events calendar, original photography and culture guides.

The culturally rich and diverse neighborhoods that comprise Los Angeles are key visitor attractions - particularly for repeat visitors.  Los Angeles Tourism has created individual promotional videos and continuously generates new editorial content to encourage visitor exploration and appreciation of LA's unique neighborhoods such as Leimert Park and Exposition Park.  Best of all, these neighborhoods are best explored on foot.

Los Angeles Tourism recognizes the importance of visitors who self-identify with its affinity markets, defined as African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino and LGBT. Together, these groups represent 42 percent of L.A.'s annual visitor population and $8.23 billion in annual visitor spending. LA Tourism has similar marketing initiatives dedicated to each of these affinity groups.

Visitors should also check out the new and bustling LA Live area, anchored by the stunning Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriott hotels, and just a stone's throw from Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center.  The LA Convention Center has abundant space for any size event. With over 720,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space, 147,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and a 299-seat theater, it is one of the largest in the United States.

GREENSBORO - Historic and Entertaining Tours for Every Interest

Centrally located in North Carolina's picturesque heartland and boasting superb meeting facilities, a great selection of 135 attractions, over 500 restaurants and more than 87 lodging options from which to choose, Greensboro is the perfect place to hold your next conference or send your vacation clients for some well-deserved R&R.

Flexibility was built into every aspect of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, with 197,000 total sq. ft. of exhibit space. For each of the 800 events presented yearly, a variety of configurations are possible. The 167,000-sq. ft. Special Events Center can be partitioned into four halls, leaving 60,000 sq. ft. for exhibits and 4,500-seat general seating setup for group sessions or entertainment.

Or, a convention might choose to use the 23,500-capacity Coliseum Arena and adjacent 2,376-seat War Memorial Auditorium. Smaller conferences and meetings will enjoy the more intimate 298-seat Odeon Theater. When used with the arena, this setting complements the interactive requirements of press conferences, seminars and meetings. The Greensboro Coliseum Complex is also home to the 78,323-sq. ft. Greensboro Aquatic Center (GAC), a state-of-the-art facility that's ideal for all major aquatic sports.

For pre- and post-conference down time, planners and their delegates can put on their walking shoes and sample the best of Greensboro by enjoying one (or more) of the many tours offered locally.  For instance, the African-American History Tour begins the day with a delicious Southern-style breakfast before taking in an array of fascinating points of interest.  Everything from the Guilford College campus, known as the location of a Hiding Place for the Underground Railroad Network, and the African American Atelier Gallery that provides rotational exhibitions, gallery talks and artist forums, to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.  The museum is housed in the former F.W. Woolworth store where four North Carolina A&T State University students sat at the then segregated lunch counter, were refused service, and served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

Of particular interest during the tour are visits to Greensboro's colleges, which offer a mecca of African-American history. NC A&T State University is home to the University Galleries which houses one of the largest collections of African culture between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. World art and community ethnic groups are also showcased with tributes to astronaut Ron McNair and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Holgate Library at Bennett College for Women features paintings by Varnette Honeywood.  Or you can stroll through the Greensboro Historical Museum where the sit-ins are commemorated in a striking exhibit.

Other popular tours include the Science Center, Military Park, Shopping Tour, Garden Tour, Historic Sites Tour, Cultural and Art Galleries Tour, Golf & Shopping Extravaganza Tour, and two Family Fun One Night Stay Tours, to name a few.

For culture buffs, the choices are many.  The Community Theatre of Greensboro has been presenting non-traditional, original and Broadway plays for more than 60 years.  Enjoy a traditional December production of "The Nutcracker," just one of the many artistic and educational activities offered by the Greensboro Ballet, or savor classical and pops concerts offered by the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra.

MACON-BIBB - A Showcase of Southern History

One of the great historic cities of the American South, Macon is home to 6,000 historic structures in 14 historic districts. Macon attractions feature rich and diverse cultures from 10,000 year-old Native American Indian mounds and the largest collection of ancient African artifacts to the 3,000 hits of Hank Aarons bat.

With over 5,000 hotel rooms in five distinct walkable areas, Macon offers a central location and budget friendly accommodations along with unique spaces for meetings, receptions, trade shows, and athletic events.

The Edgar H. Wilson Convention Center features 102,000 sq. ft. of modern, light infused space. Stretch out a little into the Macon Coliseum with a 9,252-seat capacity adjacent to the Convention Center or take advantage of an additional 5,000 sq. ft. at the 220-room Marriott hotel connected by a glass-enclosed corridor.

Beyond the Center you will find a wonderful variety of unique spaces throughout the city of Macon. Choose one of five distinct clusters designed for planning a meeting with spaces, hotel rooms, attractions, and restaurants within close proximity.

When the meetings are over, take time to marvel at Macon's gorgeous museums, mansions, and musical landmarks. Macon has dozens of antebellum homes, with three -

The Hay House, the Cannonball House, and the Sidney Lanier Cottage - available for public touring.

Macon also has wonderful museums dedicated to art and culture, including the Tubman Museum, which is the largest museum in the Southeast dedicated to African-American art, history and culture; and the Museum of Arts and Sciences, which not only has art, but a mini-zoo and planetarium.

In Macon, you'd be hard-pressed not to find an event or festival taking place. Macon has festivals for every season! Their largest and most well known festival is the International Cherry Blossom Festival, a 10-day event that starts the third week of March. Because Macon boasts over 300,000 Yoshino Cherry trees, the city is known as the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World. Other festivals include the Mulberry Street Arts Festival, Fired Works, the Pan-African Festival, Bragg Jam, Macon Film Festival, the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration and the Georgia Wellness & Fitness Festival.  Strolling through one of these festivals is a great way to spend an afternoon or evening.

Want more walking options? Macon's Farmers and Crafts Markets provide plenty of opportunities to buy Georgia Grown products while enjoying additional exercise. The Macon State Farmers Market, the Mulberry Street Market at Tattnall Square Park, and the First Saturday Village Market at Mercer Village are just a few of the possibilities.

Often referred to as a "City Within a Park," Macon's wide avenues and extensive network of community parks and walking trails allow visitors to experience Macon's natural beauty on foot.