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.
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.