Get to know your neighbourhood – Jane’s Walk

In our day to day lives, we walk around in our community to get from one place or another without really knowing the history behind the buildings and streets. That’s where Jane’s Walk comes in.

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What started in Toronto in 2006 to commemorate the life of Jane Jacobs, an urbanist and activist who believed in the importance of community-based approach to urban living, has spread to other cities outside of Canada. These walking tours are free to everyone and can be lead by anyone, even kids! Imagine how fun it would be to view your neighbourhood through the eyes of a child! They are organized by local people who are passionate about their community. Topics discussed vary; history, present and future urban planning plans, hidden gems, etc. Jane’s Walk brings people together “…to explore, talk about and celebrate their neighbourhoods.”

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Photo taken at Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park by Jeremy Kai

I have had the pleasure in partaking in different inner-city community Jane’s Walk events in Calgary in the past, and I couldn’t wait to do it again this year. Jane’s Walk in Calgary happens all over the city including the suburbs but I always gravitated to inner-city.

One of my favorite walks was in Beltline a couple of years ago. I used to walk by its streets when I was living in Lower Mount Royal (by 17th Avenue) and walked to downtown for work. However, I never really took the time to actually see Beltline for what it was or to look up its history. To be honest, all I was really concerned about was which was the fastest route to beat the lights so I didn’t have to be late for work…again. Jane’s Walk however changed all that!

The main topic of the walk was about the convergence of downtown and uptown. The intersection “point” of 10 to 12 Avenue SW was at the time, in the process of rejuvenation. Our guides showed us the good: immaculate wide sidewalks to encourage walking instead of driving, new upscale condos, thriving business and the “cool” bar and restaurant scene to satisfy the young professionals the community was trying to entice. What was very interesting to me was how they also discussed the bad side; gentrification. When a “bad/poor/ghetto/eyesore” neighbourhood gets a major makeover to drive up property values; that’s gentrification in simple terms. This got the conversation rolling and it was a very eye-opening moment for me. Beyond all the beauty of this “new and improved” Beltline, there were still shadows of the community that it once was and the lingering essence of its low income inhabitants that were essentially pushed out.

As a surprise, we ended our walk by climbing on top of a parkade with a great view overlooking the route where we just walked. This experience was very reminiscent of the scene in Dead Poet’s Society when Keating invites his students to stand on his desk to see the world in a different light. Carpe Diem, anyone? After having spent over an hour looking up at the buildings, being able to look down on them this time and have a wider panoramic view brought the message home.

This is the reason why I love Jane’s Walk and look forward to it every spring. Rain or shine …or snow,  being interested in the community we live in by just showing up and listening will hopefully inspire in us the sense of activism to be involved in civic matters. We live here, so we might as well have a say on what happens to our neighbourhoods! This is what Jane Jacobs would have wanted.

To find out about Jane’s Walk and to see if your city is participating, go here.