Jane’s Walk – walking in community

Walking in community
Following the recent Jane’s Walk Festival, I’m so excited about people ‘walking in community’. That is, walking in the simplest, most ordinary and satisfying way, in places like those where you live or where you go or that you’re interested in.

What’s Jane’s Walk?
Jane’s Walk is free and citizen led. It’s global – 352 cities took part this year. It’s a unique walking experience created for locals to take part in as walk leaders and walkers, and get to know their fellow community members and their city or neighbourhood better. It takes place on the first weekend of May each year. Jane’s Walk honours the legacy of Jane Jacobs, legendary urban commentator who has been massively influential on how cities are understood by progressives today.

Walking in community

How we walk
You may think that walking has lots going for it as active exercise. You might be like a local government manager I know, attracted to walking as a way of getting right off the beaten track and having a time of reflection. At the same time, taking walking tours are now a popular way of getting to know a city you’ve never been to. I did great walks in Berlin a few years’ ago with young, smart, professional tour leaders who really knew their stuff.
But then there’s the Jane’s Walk perspective on walking. This year walk leaders conjured up walks on very different themes – walkability in Fisherman’s Bend with Janet; parks in the City of Melbourne with Judy; neighbourhood connection on Amess Street Carlton with Kath; loss of houses and character in Preston with Annie. Check #janeswalkmelbourne on Instagram.
You don’t have to look afar to have an adventure! There are interesting things wherever you are. On my walk ‘It was gone in a minute’ in Preston we spent nearly two hours walking four or five streets. We looked at house numbers – remember the ones with silhouettes? We saw one of those, of a Mexican by a palm tree. We saw named houses and people discussed what they might have meant. We looked at mailboxes, driveways and plants. We talked about how the built form of Preston and many other areas in Melbourne is changing incredibly rapidly.
Social engagement across difference
You can have entirely different experience of social engagement walking with a random group of people. One man was attracted to my walk because he builds fine furniture from buildings torn down around us, another was doing a photography project of a doll’s house reflecting on housing unaffordability. There was a local government planner, a professor, and someone who does community engagement with the Level Crossing Authority. There were people who’d grown up nearby and people who now lived nearby. Talk about interdisciplinary!
Of course it’s wonderful to learn about relished and revered places in a major city. It’s wonderful to head off on a walking holiday in Japan, Scotland, Spain and France, New Zealand or Tasmania. And with Jane’s Walk it’s great fun to get together with locals you’ve never met and learn more about the life or future life of your neighbourhood.
Walking and healthy ageing
Yes there’s wide ranging evidence on the benefits of walking for healthy ageing. And with Jane’s Walk it’s fascinating to walk with a random group of strangers of different generations, and slow to the pace of wheelchair and walking frames. To stroll or dawdle and look at detail in a sociable way. I like this quote from a New York Times article on walkable urban retirement communities where an interviewee says ‘We realized “ageing in place” means a lot more than just a comfortable house, so we began thinking more about “ageing in community”.’
Walking in community
Jane’s Walk is about walking in community. It’s walking in a community of the past and present as Kath discovered on Amess Street and I did in Preston. It’s walking with the community of the future in mind, as Janet intended in Fishermans’ Bend, thinking about what needs to happen in this massive growth precinct, to make it a less hostile walking environment.
Walking with Jane’s Walk is free – it’s perfect for anyone who has an interest in place and some excitement about sharing it. Really it’s not hard to lead a walk. We find that those who turn up to meet us understand that Jane’s Walk is not led by a professional agenda. Rather it’s about an interesting couple of hours in which locals get together in place and learn as much from each other as the walk leader.
We partner with Open House Melbourne and hold events with them celebrating Jane Jacobs and Jane’s Walks. The next walks will be in July as part of the Open House program. I specialise in facilitation so if you’re interested in learning how to get Jane’s Walk happening where you are, get in touch. I’ve been Melbourne city organiser for five years now and plenty of experience in what makes walking in community.

Speaking on water

[Setting: Readings Bookshop, Carlton]

[Event: Launch of ‘Plastic Water, the social and material life of bottled water’ by Gay Hawkins, Emily Potter and Kane Race, MIT Press, 2015]

Emily Potter:

Annie is the perfect person to launch this book. She is someone who has been intimately involved in the multiple lives of water for many years, as a scholar and artist, through stakeholder engagement and community consultation. She has worked with water as a material force, as technical object, and as cultural matter.

Annie Bolitho:

It’s an honour to be here to launch ‘Plastic Water, the social and material life of bottled water’ on behalf of its authors Gay Hawkins, Emily Potter and Kane Race. I do have a longstanding interest in the subject. One context from my working life I’d like to mention is my association with the University of Melbourne’s fabulous interdisciplinary Master of Environment. In one of their core units, many students engage with water as an urban ‘flow’. Their projects are situated in a rapidly changing environment, and must be long ranging. Future leaders like these will really benefit from the insights in this book.

Right now I’d like us to get together around the book! Isn’t it a beautiful production?  It’s the product of seven years’ work. It’s a huge collaborative achievement.

The book started life as an Australian Research Council project. None of the authors imagined they’d be working on it for so long. Yet their stick-with-it-ness’ rewards us with a complex, often mesmerising study, which follows the object of the plastic bottle into multiple unanticipated scenarios.

Back Camera

Gay has consolidated her empirical and theoretical work on everyday practices of sustainability. Emily and Kane note with appreciation Gay’s insistence on the empirical. They’ll take this into future work. All the authors identify with different disciplines, as well as Cultural Studies. Nonetheless I’d like to take the occasion of this launch as celebrate the contribution of cultural studies as a discipline. It’s how I connect with the authors. It’s where I find some of my favourite theory, for example by Isabelle Stengers.

Back Camera

But most importantly Cultural Studies as a discipline doesn’t organise itself slavishly around method. This causes alarm to many!  However we see in this book, an unusually close examination of a cultural institution, say the accelerating habit of what the authors term ‘frequent sipping’ and all that makes it so.  Say the corporation Evian or Coca Cola Amatil, generally speaking seen as a brand. Perhaps a brand with ethical overtones. The authors bring these corporations to light as a plethora of social and material embodiments: their PET bottles, their labels, research programs to provide authoritative content for website marketing, corporate executives and operational staff, in-house purification plants, investment in ‘disadvantage’, as well as our society’s ‘attachment to a cluster of promises’ (Isabelle Stengers quoted in the book).

The UK commentator and sociologist John Brewer highlights the way today a narrow impact research agenda pushes people’s attention away from the very issues and complexity we need to be dealing with in our society. That is not the case here. We are invited into engagement with complexity and wonder, in a diffuse global transnational context.

A frequent criticism of Cultural Studies is that it fails to connect beyond the academy. One reading of the chapter on the Northern Territory Intervention knocks that on the head. The material on hydration reminds us of the relatively short period in which we have come to see ourselves as ‘me, me, me’ biological subjects. Think about it. We urban humans did not run before the 1970 New York Marathon, prior to its unprecedented media coverage. We run because of Gatorade. Read the book to find out more. The material on South and South East Asia brings forward what Simon During terms ‘a vernacular globalisation’. A great achievement.

Let’s raise our glasses to the authors, and launch this book. Cheers!

Hear more about this project in an interview with Emily Potter on ABC Radio.

Citizens’ jury on brain injury – report out

If you lost the wealth of your brain’s services to you …

God forbid! as my friend Judy would say, with a tone of voice and look that will dispel dire misfortune now and forever.

… If you or your sister or your partner or child lost some of their brain’s services, what would you want of hospitals, doctors, allied health professionals and health agencies? What would you want of rehabilitation?

You might think the professionals are equipped with all the right expertise, and decisions would flow from there.

If only it were that simple.

Latrobe University researchers in conjunction with the Alfred Hospital hired Annie Bolitho & Associates to design and facilitate a citizens’ jury on brain injury in October 2014. A report drawing together the work of the jury has recently been released.

This diagram from an expert witness presentation by Dr Kate Laver (Flinders University) highlights the complex mix of inputs to the rehabilitation process.

Kate Laver: on rehabilitation
Kate Laver: on rehabilitation
Citizens’ juries are a terrific methodology when it is essential to take values into account. Personal values. Values we hold or might hold as communities and societies.
This piece of evidence from Brain Injury Australia‘s Nick Rushworth made a strong impression on the jurors.
“On a subject like brain injury where there’s so many known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, there’s ONE truth that can bear re-stating here: that brain injury – like other disabilities – tracks social-locational disadvantage. Those people at the greatest risk of a brain injury are drawn from exactly the same populations as those at risk of ANY injury – from backgrounds of low income, low levels of education, high levels of unemployment, poor housing and so on. This might bring it home: half of my hometown Sydney, half of its metropolitan area’s young, risk-taking, severe traumatic brain injuries – the motor vehicle accidents, the assaults – HALF occur between the, what, longitudes of Parramatta and Penrith.”
This information drew out a social values discussion in the jury. ‘What does this evidence mean for us as a society?’ ‘What if this reality could be changed, ameliorated?’ ‘How could education about risks best be targeted?’ The outcome of their discussion was to recommend public education, especially to young at risk males.
The ABI Citizens’ Jury Report_20012015 outlines more about this interesting case study for citizen juries and health. The researchers would appreciate it if you let them know if the report is useful to you. 
Jurors present recommendations to stakeholders (Brain Injury Citizens' Jury)
Jurors present recommendations to stakeholders (Brain Injury Citizens’ Jury)

Wonderful change through stakeholder alliances

alliance stakeholders

What kind of change do you see when good stakeholder alliances are at work? A recent Food Alliance gathering heard from Kindling Trust Manchester’s Chris Walsh. He said their alliance has enabled:

  • Generation of detailed technical knowledge and evidence
  • Development of strategic skills
  • Successful negotiations between unlikely parties (buyers and growers) to share risk on the project ‘Manchester Veg People’
  • Successful collaborative projects – ‘Feeding Manchester’, ‘Lend a Hand on the Land’
  • Relationships that open up opportunities, not necessarily immediately, but in time
  • Generous exchange


alliance stakeholders
Good food at Food Alliance gathering!

Our local Food Alliance’s  success in building relationships over three years was there for all to see. Their vision and mission are alive and relevant, the alliance reaches across the food system, they have a productive steering group, a fabulous champion, restauranteur Dur-e Dara, and an accessible project relevant to supporters and a broader constituency, ‘Know your Foodbowl.’

These things take time! A key success factor for the Alliance has been the patient support of the funding body VicHealth. Alongside, the Australian Food Hubs Network has focused on distribution, City of Melbourne has developed a food policy, Food City … and so wonderful change goes on.