Since 2013 Hamilton has been celebrating the Jane’s Walk festival. This two-day event takes place on the first weekend of May and is intended to get people out walking in their neighbourhoods. Jane’s Walk was founded ten years ago to honour the ideas and legacy of urbanist and activist Jane Jacobs. Although she was not a formerly educated planner herself, Jane had great visions for city design and has since been influential to many planners, architects, politicians, and activists.
Jane Jacobs thought of cities as adaptable ecosystems that thrived on community interaction, where home, work, and play were all within reach. She believed local residents should have a voice and an impact on how their cities develop, and encouraged citizens to get to know more about the dynamics of their neighbourhoods. In her 1957 essay “Downtown is for People” she wrote, “No [planner] can find what will work for our cities by looking at … suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities. You’ve got to get out and walk.”
That is exactly what Jane’s Walk Hamilton encourages people to do: get out and see for ourselves what makes this city great. Jane’s Walks are free, non-traditional walking (or cycling) conversations that typically last from one to two hours. They are organized and lead by everyday Ham- iltonians who want to share what they know about special places in the city. We can meet our neighbours, make new friends, and network all while learning something new or sharing our knowledge. We can join a walk in a neighbour- hood that we know or choose a walk somewhere we’ve never been and know nothing about.
To date, hundreds of participants have enjoyed walks throughout the lower city, on the mountain, and in Dundas and Ancaster with themes ranging from historical art and architecture to politics and nature. These walks build on the already strong sense of community Hamiltonians share while offering new Canadians, out-of-towners, and commuters an opportunity to explore what’s local with people who are passionate about it.
The best part is that anyone can lead a walk because leaders decide their own theme, location, and focus. The dynamics of the walk participants will ultimately shape the experience. Jane’s Walks are a platform for people to participate in meaningful conversations about the social and built future of our neighbourhoods, what we see now, and our visions for the future. They are more than just an excuse to go for a walk; they can be informative from a planning perspective too. We can learn about current civic issues, explore aspects of urban planning, and make connections with people who are making decisions about our city.
Staying informed and connected at a local scale was important to Jane Jacobs. As she wrote in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
This is relevant if we want to be involved in the adapta- tion of the city over the next several decades of the infrastructure boom here in Hamilton. We can learn what makes a neighbourhood walkable and advocate for the improvement of the ones that are not. Walks are also a great opportunity for young folks to explore new people and places and to get their own take on current transportation choices.
This May 7th and 8th, Hamiltonians can join one or multiple Jane’s Walks across the city. For more information on becoming a Walk Leader or joining an existing walk, or to learn more about Jane’s Walk Hamilton, visit janeswalk.org/Canada/Hamilton or Jane’s Walk Hamilton on Facebook.