Edmonton celebrates Jane Jacobs with Jane’s Walks

If you have ever been stuck behind me when I’m driving through a new (to me) Edmonton neighbourhood, I’m sorry.

As I’m trying to drive through the neighbourhood and get to my destination, I’m also trying to take it all in — the architecture, the landscape and any neat local shops.

This weekend, luckily, I’ll be able to do just that, without causing any major traffic problems.

So far, there are 15 Jane’s Walks planned for this weekend in Edmonton, May 4, 5 and 6, 2013, (editor’s note: link edited to reflect the 32 planned walks in 2015) with another two scheduled during the lunch hour on May 3 as a kickoff event.

“Jane’s Walks is meant to be completely spontaneous and for citizens to be involved,” said Ian Hosler, the city contact and the Walkable Edmonton program co-ordinator at the City of Edmonton. “So it’s nice when experts do it, but it’s meant for anyone to engage in the urban conversation about what people feel is better for their living within a community.”

Jane’s Walks are named after Jane Jacobs, an urbanist and activist who encouraged a community-based approach to city building. After her death in April 2006, Jane’s Walks started as a way for people to get out, explore their neighbourhoods and meet their neighbours.

Some walks may mostly be made up of community members, Hosler said, while other walks will attract people from all over the city.

Using the Rossdale Power Plant as an example, Hosler added that sometimes concepts don’t always look like the site, so it’s good for people to actually hold discussions on location. The Rossdale walk is May 4 at 11 a.m.

“A walk would be a great opportunity for, this is what it actually looks like, and the dynamics of the site, and have a little bit of that discussion,” he said.

Hosler will be leading a walk himself, in Westmount at 1 p.m. on May 4. Even though he lives in the community, he doesn’t claim to be an expert — he’s just there to lead and guide the conversation, he said.

“I said ‘Yeah, I’ll give some structure to it,’ but I fully expect anyone who knows anything or wants to come and contribute to the conversation to come and chip in,” he said.

Marianne Fedori will also be leading her own walk, in Glenora (May 4 at 9:30 a.m.), which she has done for years. However, even though it’s a fairly historic neighbourhood, and Fedori describes herself as an urban historian, it won’t strictly be a historic tour, she said.

“It started off more as a historic tour, and the focus now is more, how did this change?” she said. “Because there aren’t as many historic buildings for me to talk about: ‘This was there, and this is what we have now,’ and ‘This is a good solution,’ and ‘How can we improve,’ and ‘How does this change the community?’”

In places like Toronto, there is a walk with every conceivable theme, Hosler said. And in Edmonton, there’s already some good variety — in the past, there have been walks lead by nature and photography enthusiasts, as well as one walk that was led by someone on the arts council.

“It was looking at urban landscapes as art. So looking at it through an entirely different lens,” he said. “And people went on it, and were like, ‘That was really different, but fascinating.’”

Information about Jane’s Walks across North America can be found at janeswalk.org; walks specific to Edmonton, with time, meeting location and description can be found here, or by searching “Edmonton” on the general site.

Anyone can lead a walk and take part, Fedori stressed. It’s all about perspective.

“Because people move in and out of cities all the time, especially in Alberta. We are such a transient population, and what do you learn about your community, how liveable is it in the first couple of months that you live there?

“I think that’s a really big Jane Jacobs statement.”

(Edited: Read a recap of three of the 2013 Jane’s Walks here — with maps!)