Walk Jane Walk…

Lakeland District embraces Jane Jacobs’ advice.

By Scott Taylor and David J. Stinson

It has been more than 50 years since Jane Jacobs wrote her opus The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a seminal critique of the rationalist assumptions underlying urban renewal and sub-urban sprawl.  Her challenge to planners is that abstraction will not work “…You’ve got to get out and walk” (Downtown is for People, 1957).

In this spirit, the Lakeland’s District undertook a number of walks this season.  Our first event was in April and involved close to a dozen children and eight adults from the Kids Church programme at St. Paul’s Centre in Orillia. Cartoons were used to illustrate the principles Jane espoused, the “Flintstones” to show mixed-use, or the “Princess and the Frog” to show architectural density and ease of getting around.  On the 12th of April, David Stinson led the kids through the neighbourhood and on the 19th they got to design their own neighbourhood. An effort was made to link planning to Sunday school themes of caring for creation and loving others.  The concept they enjoyed the most was the “popsicle test” – walking to the store to get a popsicle and returning home before it melts – a practical example of the pivotal role local stores play in creating the “sidewalk ballet”.

The next walk took place in the north western region of the Lakeland’s District.  We capitalized on the wonderful Spring weather with a particularly scenic hike of the Bruce Trail on the 4th of June, including the ‘Old Baldy’ lookout over the Beaver Valley, before heading into Blue Mountain Village for dinner. 

On the 20th and 21st of June, planners and community members hosted Owen Sound’s first two Jane’s Walks.  The Saturday walk entitled ‘Meandering through Owen Sound’s Downtown’ was led by Maryann Thomas, a local business owner and publisher, who worked with Jane Jacobs on publishing her final book.  Maryann took 25 participants on a walk through downtown, facilitating a discussion on the resiliency and evolution of the city’s commercial core.  Along the walk route a number of business owners participated in the discussions, as well as the head of a local charity which operates a community space downtown.

The Sunday walk entitled ‘Jewish Roots, Jewish Routes’ was led by Aly Boltman, who explored the local Jewish heritage with 40 folks, visiting the former homes and businesses of some of Owen Sound’s earliest Jewish families.  Although a last minute addition, the walk also included a visit to, and discussion on, the re-development of the former courthouse building, from a public art space to a private senior’s housing development. Based on the community’s attendance and enthusiasm for the walks, there are already discussions on what the next route and topic should be.   

Barrie had its second “annual” Jane’s Walk on the 20th of June as well.  Approximately 25 people participated in a tour of the downtown lead by Allan McNair and Steve Travers, the Town Crier.  It was a delightful blend of history, humour, gossip, and planning principles.  A short presentation about Jane, her life and ideas, was also included in the walking route. We strolled along some of the main streets, the back alleys, and connecting green spaces that make this community work.  The arch outlining the original City Hall, next to the current City Hall, the original Carnagie Library (now the MacLaren Art Centre), and the present main library were contrasted in terms of the architectural approaches used and building history.  We examined some of the area’s successes, such as the residential density, the mixing of uses, and the reorientation towards the water.  We observed the emerging banking district and animated restaurant quarter.  Also noted, were the proposed improvements to the public square and the potential shift of the farmer’s market to the current bus station building.  With all the successes, we contrasted the discussions by examining some of the challenges to the urban fabric, such as the loss of heritage buildings, unfinished developments, and disconnected transit links. The discussion is unlimited as is the number or routes that could be walked within the City of Barrie.  We hope to continue the discussion through additional Jane’s Walks in the coming years.   

Jane was not a planner, and though she was dismissed as a ”crazy dame” and vilified as a meddling “mother”, her keen observations have proved foundational to understanding the life of cities.

Thanks to Kristin Dibble Pechkovsky for co-ordinating and organizing this event.

Scott Taylor MCIP, RPP, is on the Programme Committee of the Lakeland District and a Senior Planner with Grey County.  He can be reached at Scott.Taylor@grey.ca.  David J. Stinson MCIP, RPP, P.Ag., is on the Programme Committee of the Lakeland District and a partner at Incite Planning.

Email David J. Stinson



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