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.

Don’t oil the squeaky wheel

Right now there’s a council officer out there battling with a squeaky wheel. I know this from my research on local government committees, where their role was a frequent theme. The officer is usually acting in the context of strategy and plans. The committee member is often acting with great determination and a community need in mind. This obstinacy isn’t always welcome. There he/she goes again!

Back at Christmas time I met a squeaky wheel. She dragged us off to try out public exercise equipment at Waterlily Park in Ocean Shores in Byron Shire, NSW. Sue’s a member of Nimbin Advisory Group. She’s after community accessible fitness equipment for the town, with a passion that must have council staff shouting, ‘Don’t oil the squeaky wheel!’

Actually we were happy to give the fitness equipment a try, and get fried in the 38 degree heat (no shade). And I had to find out more about the learnings, the frustration and passion of a squeaky wheel.

What makes you so keen on this stuff Sue?
I have a sports background. I’m a phys ed teacher by training, and played Australian women’s hockey. Sport’s in my blood! I first came across public fitness equipment on a holiday in Turkey in Istanbul. A woman in head coverings was using it, and so were people in all sorts of costumes. One of the things that impressed me was that it was accompanied by signs describing what muscles were used on a particular piece of equipment.

In Australia I saw it in Darwin at Nightcliff Beach. Everyone was using it. I started asking people whether they liked it. Then I saw some on the Gold Coast.

You seem to know a lot about it all.
Yes, I started taking note of forms, shapes, companies that make equipment. The best equipment around is ‘Fit for Parks’. That’s why I called the project ‘Fit for Nimbin’. Think about it … it’s a great title – just like ‘Fit for the Future’! (NSW local government amalgamation # ed note: squeaky wheels are experts, and know lots about the local government context).

I was ready to apply for money for equipment for our community, to get a group together who could see the benefits. We all know that council doesn’t fund things without matching dollars. We raised funds locally, for example the Rainbow Power Company, gave money because they wanted their employees to be able to exercise at lunchtime. We got money from Clubs NSW.

So how are things moving along?
Well, we weren’t successful with the local council. Their sports and rec area is more oriented to traditional sports. Yet research shows what’s needed is this kind of thing, which individuals can make use of at any time.

I was told that the reason the equipment wasn’t funded was because public exercise equipment was not in the 10 year plan! Of course I read the 10 year plan. It turned out there’s nothing in the 10 year plan for Nimbin other than a plan to improve some flat land with picnic tables. There is nothing active in the 10 year plan.

Still on the hunt for funds I started looking for the NSW government body funding sports equipment for older citizens. Yes, there was something! But it had been closed. The officer wasn’t sure it’d happen again.

So what’s the next step?
I find Councillors are more receptive to initiatives that come from the community than council officers. In my view, the 10 year plan needs community based equipment on council land which is regularly mown, and not currently used for anything. Our group has located a suitable area to activate, near the kids playground and barbecue.

There are many like us who want to exercise in their own time, at their own level of fitness. Equipment like this, that explains uses and safety, gives people the chance to be responsible for their own movement. We’re going to get some for Nimbin

The trickiest thing with some of this equipment is getting on!
The trickiest thing with some of this equipment is getting on!

So … the squeaky wheel … In the words of my research report, ‘Work with expert citizen members to realise the benefits of what they have to offer’ (Bolitho, 2013, p18).

Innovation in community development?

Nominations for the 2015 National Community Development Award (Australian Regional Development Conference) close on Tuesday next week (15 July 2014). The key criterion? How does your project demonstrate innovation and/or best practice in the way your organisation does business or delivers services to your community?

What does innovation and/or best practice in community development mean to you?

Innovation is … :

According to this 2012 article ‘Community Development, reflecting on what works‘, a pithy summary of current leading trends:

1. ‘unprecedented collaboration’ – joining forces with other organisations and workers … to the max!

2. successfully using data which plays a key role role in analysis, programming and decision-making.

Is this what the CD awards are looking for when seeking innovation, and does this reflect your experience?

best practice