Jane's Walk: Cities are for people
Have you ever wanted to feel more connected to your city? Sure, you could visit a museum, or tour a heritage building, but why not discover the city on your own two feet?
With a Jane's Walk guided tour, you can explore the beautiful and varied landscape of a city, and get a good workout at the same time.
The Jane's Walk project began in 2006 in Toronto. It was inspired by Jane Jacobs, a journalist, urbanist, activist, and recipient of the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario, famous for her community-based approach to building and planning cities.
Jacobs was born May 4, 1916 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She worked as an unpaid assistant for the Scranton Tribune, before leaving the city with her sister Betty during the Great Depression. The two arrived in New York City, and settled in Greenwich Village.
Throughout Jacobs advocated for women's right to equal pay and workers' right to unionize, and fought against suburbs, which she considered parasitic to he next few years, Jacobs worked various jobs, mostly in the print industry, and attended Columbia University's School of General Studies. communities.
By 1952, Jacobs was a strong voice in urban development. She demanded greater respect for the needs of communities and poor populations in urban planning.
Her 1958 article "Downtown is for the People" caused quite a stir among urbanists and government officials. She soon was called to work on several urbanist projects, including her best-selling 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, hailed as groundbreaking in its approach to urban development.
Jacobs wrote that the common trends in urban planning of the time, such as zoning areas for specific purposes like residential and business (which is still common today), actually harm cities. They separate and isolate residents, decreasing community engagement.
In her book, Jacobs highlighted a number of ways that a city could be improved while retaining the diverse vibrancy she felt was essential to strong communities. For instance, she suggested making city blocks shorter to improve pedestrian accessibility.
Around this time, Jacobs became entrenched in a lengthy battle against urban planner Robert Moses and his effort to destroy Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park so that he could run a freeway through the area. The extensive efforts of Jacobs and many others led to the plan being cancelled four times throughout the decade.
Jacobs was hailed as a local hero. She was arrested at a public hearing in 1968 after attendants stormed the stage, accused of inciting a riot, criminal mischief, and obstructing public administration. This was eventually reduced to disorderly conduct.
A few months later, Jacobs decided to leave the US. She was opposed to the ongoing Vietnam War and weary of fighting the City of New York.
Jacobs settled in Toronto with her husband and two sons, where she continued to be an active voice in urban planning. She kept an active interest in other cities, especially Vancouver.
She was called "the mother of Vancouverism," a style of urban design that includes many of Jacobs' familiar ideas. It favours mixed-use developments and the maintaining of many green park spaces. Nowadays, Vancouver is often hailed as the most livable city in North America.
When Jacobs died, in 2006, several of her friends endeavored to find some way to honour and celebrate her legacy. This led to the creation of Jane's
Walk, an activity that helps walkers form the personal connections with the city that Jacobs considered so essential.
The first Jane's Walks took place throughout Toronto in 2007 on Jacobs' birthday, May 5. The event was a massive success, quickly gaining participants and media attention. The day was commemorated as Jane Jacobs Day by Toronto Mayor David Miller. The next set of walks was held the same year in Greenwich Village, New York City.
The next year, Jane's Walks took place in 10 different Canadian cities, including Ottawa. Altogether 14 Jane's Walks were held in Ottawa that year, with an overall attendance of around 600 walkers.
By 2012, that number had more than tripled to around 2,000 walkers participating in 50 walks over two days. By this time, Jane's walk had become an international event, hosted in cities throughout France, England, Italy, Venezuela, and elsewhere. Ottawa continues to host more than 50 walks each year.
You should know that no one person organizes these walks. They are brought to life entirely by citizens with a passion for their surroundings, who want to share the geography and history they love with others in their community.
So if you have a special place in your city that you want to share with others, sign yourself up as a Tour Leader and submit it to the organizer of the next set of Jane's Walks in your area!
No doubt some of our Ottawa readers took time to enjoy the recent Jane's Walk in May, held as part of Ottawa Architecture Week. And for those who missed it, there's no need to worry--Jane's Walk will surely make the rounds here in a year's time, teaching us all more about the fascinating city around us.
Nathan Mulcahy writes on environmental and social justice issues.