Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Walking with Jane?

8th Avenue in Marion: a candidate for a Jane's Walk?
There is an organization in Canada, Jane's Walks, that promotes group walking events as a way to build community and make places. Jane is, of course, Jane Jacobs, the godmother of urbanism, and author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Random House, 1961) and Dark Age Ahead (Vintage, 2004), among other books. The organization began as a memorial shortly after her death in 2006. They hope each walk will serve as a "walking conversation" as people tour the chosen area. Their next international effort is planned for the weekend of May 6-8, 2016.

Jane's Walks describes their mission as
To develop urban literacy and a community-based approach to city building by encouraging citizen-led walking tours that make space for every person to observe, reflect, share, question and collectively reimagine the places in which they live, work and play. In this way, we honour the legacy of Jane Jacobs whose writings championed the voices of local residents in neighbourhood planning.
Some of the varied experiences over the years noted on the site include:
  • A walk in Colchester, England was led by two brothers, aged 6 and 4, who showed walkers around their favourite park and shared interesting historical facts about the local castle;
  • In Ljubljana, Slovenia, a city councillor came on a walk to discuss the history and potential future of the area around a stalled construction site;
  • In the heart of Toronto, Canada, a Queer Newcomer Youth walk was led by a group of young people who had all arrived in the city recently, but had found a welcoming community there; and
  • In Calcutta, India, a group set out to explore the wetlands at the city’s edge.
Their advice for organizing a walk begins this way:
  1. Think of a place you'd like to tour. It can be anywhere: the street you live on, a place you like to hang out, a secret garden that not many people know about.
  2. Go for a walk there and observe the people and things around you. Take a friend. Take notes. 
  3. As you walk, think about a few places along the route that would make good places to stop. What is interesting there and what could offer a good start point for discussion with your neighbours?
In 2015, there were over 1000 Jane's Walks in 189 cities on six continents, from Abbotsford, British Columbia, to Zurich. Antarctica was not represented, nor, it appears, was Iowa. So-o-o... where would we do a Jane's Walk in Cedar Rapids?

The first place that comes to mind when you think of walkable areas in Cedar Rapids is New Bohemia. So let's not do New Bohemia. This is a big city. Well, not a "big city," but the metropolitan area is far bigger than the few noteworthy blocks of New Bohemia.

This wide sidewalk in the Mound View neighborhood is a link on the CeMar Trail
Here are some other possible themes that occur to me:
  • a historic neighborhood. As an east-sider for 27 years, I don't know as much as I'd like to about west-side neighborhoods like Time-Check, the Taylor Area, or the area Ben Kaplan has named Hayes Park.
  • some other part of town that's under-rated when it comes to urbanism. Kenwood? 8th Avenue in Marion?
  • a great park like Ellis or Bever, which has a variety of areas from a municipal pool to a woods. Bever's woods is woodsier than Ellis's. The Sac and Fox Trail, which goes by Indian Creek Nature Center, is surprisingly undeveloped yet accessible from town.
  • great street trees. When my boys were little we were partial to a sycamore in the 100 block of 18th Street NE.
  • a cluster of some interesting type like churches or bars or coffeehouses or gardens.
  • a walk to school that's in a walkable neighborhood.
  • candidates for infill. Strong Towns is starting a #BuildHereNow theme.
The garden behind Southeast Church of Christ,
a hidden gem in the Oakhill-Jackson neighborhood
As usual I'm trying to start a conversation here. These ideas are meant to stimulate your imagination. Cedar Rapidians, where should we walk with Jane?

"Honor Jane Jacobs' Legacy in Your Town with This Activity," Strong Towns, 16 February 2016, http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2016/2/15/help-host-janes-walk
"Jane Jacobs Interviewed by Jim Kunstler," Metropolis (March 2001), http://www.kunstler.com/mags_jacobs.htm


  1. A historic neighborhood would be nice. Let me know when and where you do this.

  2. Jim Throgmorton hosted a Jane's Walk in Iowa City back in 2013 - even had an actress playing Jane, providing her insight on the urban quality of downtown and Riverfront Crossing district. Very interesting and I think can be pretty enlightening for people who don't sit around and think about urbanism all day :)


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