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Jane’s Walk: Celebrating The Legacy of Jane Jacobs

EngagingCities is now blogging on the NCDD news blog!  This is EngagingCities’ first post…

As planners, architects, and passionate urbanists, we regularly ponder new ways to engage the public and get them motivated to be involved in planning projects. Besides the new tools for public engagement available today, we believe it is important to keep hands-on approaches to public engagement as part of the mix. Similarly, we are passionate about sharing with our readers success stories and insights from thought leaders within the planning industry, such as that of the legendary grassroots urbanist Jane Jacobs, which might inspire them to make their communities more livable, or shall we say, “walkable”.

Jacobs’ 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail that now seem like common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists. She saw cities as ecosystems that had their own logic and dynamism which would change over time according to how they were used. With a keen eye for detail, she wrote eloquently about sidewalks, parks, retail design and self-organization. A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work and play.

Worldwide Participation

Each May, thousands of people around the globe celebrate Jacobs’ birthday by doing something she often did: they go for a walk with their neighbors. The volunteer-led community strolls take place under the banner of Toronto-based organization Jane’s Walk, and are free and open to the public. Unlike tourist walking tours, Jane’s Walks attract residents by focusing on local issues–from the location of the best bakeries to successful social housing strategies. Jane’s Walk has grown from one city at its inauguration in 2007 to 454 neighborhoods in 2010, with thousands of people in 68 cities worldwide participating.

With the rising success of the event, and more and more local agencies initiating their community’s involvement, it is apparent that walking matters increasingly more to towns and cities as the connection between walking and socially vibrant neighborhoods is becoming more obvious. Built environments that promote and facilitate walking – to stores, work, school and amenities – are better places to live, have higher real estate values, promote healthier lifestyles and have higher levels of social cohesion.

The focus of each city’s walk evolves into something new each year, and depends on what is currently happening in the respective community at the time. Some local volunteers and organizers highlight an issue and become a community consultation of sorts; others show off unknown treasures or draw attention to misunderstood neighborhoods.

Community Walks Program

Jane’s Walks are led by a wide range of individuals and groups. The organization feels that sometimes people need a bit of help drawing out the stories of their neighborhood and residents, and with this in mind, they provide on their website an adaptable, straightforward curriculum that helps groups of people develop informative and entertaining stories, which taken together make an engaging walking tour that showcases a neighborhood.

Jane’s Walk also offers a Walkability Tool Kit to community organizers interested in getting their neighborhoods involved in this annual event. The Toolkit is a very basic introduction to the concepts of walkability and offers some simple tools to help measure and capture the walking environment in neighborhoods. The process helps connect local residents, raises awareness about what makes a community walkable, and the data and observations collected can be useful in the larger goal of making improvements.

Youth Curriculum

In addition to the annual worldwide weekend of walking tours, the Jane’s Walk organization has expanded to reach out to the youth population of growing communities. In 2008, Jane’s Walk debuted its first-ever School Edition, working with teachers and students in high schools, to create a series of student-led walking tours around the school neighborhood. In the classroom and on the street, social mapping exercises and participatory techniques are used to help kids get engaged in thinking about-and interacting with-their built environment in new and exciting ways. Both teachers and students found the curriculum was a great way to introduce fresh thinking about urban planning, local history and community-building. There is also an opportunity to reach even younger school age children with this movement in your community with a Junior Jane’s Walk.

To find out more about Jane’s Walk and how to get your community on the list of tours for 2012 visit http://www.janeswalk.net/.

EngagingCities is online magazine that shares creative strategies and new technologies to foster public engagement for livable communities. To learn more, visit http://engagingcities.com/.

Additional contact info:
Chris Haller – Urban Interactive Studio LLC
phone: +1 (303) 720-6424 | twitter: @challer

At UIS, we provide outreach strategies and tools to a variety of clients and projects, each with unique needs. Our expertise? Engaging Web and mobile platforms.

Now available: http://EngagingPlans.com – Building Better Communities Through Place-based Interactive Web Sites

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EngagingCities is online magazine that shares creative strategies and new technologies to foster public engagement for livable communities. Chris Haller is our EngagingCities blogger. Chris heads up Urban Interactive Studio (UIS), a consulting firm specializing in online approaches to public engagement, with a focus on land use and community planning.

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