“Streets in cities serve many purposes besides carrying vehicles, and city sidewalks—the pedestrian parts of the streets—serve many purposes besides carrying pedestrians… Streets and their sidewalks, the main public places of a city, are its most vital organs. Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets.”
With these words, taken from the opening pages of her seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs both began and gave voice to a revolution. Though her ideas—about promoting density and mixed-use space, about the importance of play and the dangers of prioritizing automobiles—were initially met with great resistance in academic circles, Jacobs’s resolutely vernacular approach to urban planning quickly took hold in the hearts of many city dwellers and fundamentally reshaped popular conceptions of what cities and city life should look like. An American transplant who chose to live in Toronto for most of her adult life, Jacobs is perhaps the single best known and most widely read urban theorist of modern times; she is also something of a mother-figure to the city of Toronto, and much of how we conceive of ourselves today can be attributed to the work of Jacobs and her companions-in-arms.
Torontonians will be taking to the streets this weekend, and also to the alleyways, trails, ravines, and railway corridors that crisscross our city, in pursuit of and tribute to this ideal of a public, playful, communal street life. Jane’s Walk, now in its third year, is a celebration of the city by the people who love and know it best—its residents. Almost one hundred neighbourhood-based tours are planned, each led by one or two residents who have volunteered to guide fellow Torontonians through the nooks and crannies of their local haunts. The tour themes range from the historic (Art Deco Skyscrapers of Downtown Toronto, Flemingdon Park: From Farmland to Wonderland of Diversity) to the whimsical (Places to Bonk on Your Lunch Hour) and the tour guides run the gamut from city councillors to the St. James Town Youth Council. You can wander down to the nearest corner and learn more about your own ‘hood or trek across town and discover parts of the city you sometimes see mentioned in the paper but haven’t yet visited at all.
We’ve been staring at the schedule for a week and are still dazzled by the array of choices. Thus, we offer no specific recommendations for particular walks, but only this general suggestion: put on your walking shoes and go.