Why bother to walk in Syd­ney this weekend? Colum­nist Paul McDougall ex­plains.

Why now? Why bother?

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton - Paul MacDougall Op-Ed

Jane’s Walks are cit­i­zen-led ur­ban walk­ing tours in­spired by the work of Jane Ja­cobs, a writer and activist best known for writ­ing about cities and who died at the age of 89 in 2016.

Her first book, “The Death and Life of Great Amer­i­can Cities” (1961), be­came a clas­sic of modern city plan­ning and put for­ward the no­tion of di­verse cities made for and by the peo­ple who live in them.

Born in Scran­ton, Penn­syl­va­nia, Ja­cobs lived for many years in New York un­til she moved to Toronto in 1968. To com­mem­o­rate her life and work a se­ries of seven walks were held in 2007 in Toronto. Since then a whole weekend event has de­vel­oped and spread to over 1,000 walks in more than 200 cities in 36 coun­tries on six con­ti­nents. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple take part in these walks, in­clud­ing over 50 peo­ple of all ages in the past two years here in Syd­ney.

Ja­cobs felt that “no one can find what will work for their cities by … ma­nip­u­lat­ing scale mod­els, or in­vent­ing dream cities.” What you had to do was “get out and walk.” The pur­pose of get­ting out walk­ing your city on the Jane’s Walk weekend is to con­nect peo­ple to the places where they live, work and play.

Ja­cobs aimed to cre­ate con­ver­sa­tions, get var­ied voices to­gether and hear their thoughts aloud. Ja­cob’s felt if you could en­gage peo­ple in their own com­mu­ni­ties it would help fos­ter a bet­ter sense of civic lead­er­ship. Walk­ing and ex­plor­ing your own cities or neigh­bour­hoods, no mat­ter the size, would help break down bar­ri­ers caused by dis­tance, dif­fer­ences and ap­a­thy.

Why bother with a Jane’s walk in Syd­ney you won­der? Well, the rea­son is quite sim­ple. Syd­ney is an in­ter­est­ing place with a unique his­tory. It was first in­hab­ited by the Mi’kmaq cen­turies ago, then Euro­pean and West In­dian im­mi­grants even­tu­ally reached its shore and in the early 1900s thou­sands came to work at Syd­ney Steel, which lasted close to 100 years.

No longer an in­dus­try town Syd­ney is now home to the thriv­ing and ex­pand­ing com­mu­nity of Membertou, Open Hearth and Went­worth Parks, kilo­me­tres of in-city walk­ing trails, a beau­ti­ful board­walk and har­bour, two play­houses, a li­brary, a de­vel­op­ing arts cen­tre, univer­sity and com­mu­nity col­lege, sports fa­cil­i­ties, nu­mer­ous cof­fee shops, eth­nic res­tau­rants, bars and pubs fea­tur­ing a vi­brant lo­cal mu­sic scene. There is plenty to see and do if you get out and look.

The rea­son we should think more about Jane Ja­cobs and her ground-break­ing and revo­lu­tion­ary city liv­ing ideas is there may be plenty of ground be­ing bro­ken in our own down­town soon enough. A ma­jor down­town re­vi­tal­iza­tion plan was re­cently re­vealed to the cit­i­zens of CBRM. In it there are a num­ber of fea­tures that draw di­rectly from the think­ing of Ja­cobs.

Pre­dom­i­nate in the plan is the no­tion of mak­ing Syd­ney’s down­town more ac­tive, more walk­a­ble, more mixed-use and user friendly, more a place to want to be. If the plan goes ahead as pro­posed, Syd­ney will be a place all those young folks who keep­ing mov­ing on will want to ei­ther stick around in or come back to.

Syd­ney has a great op­por­tu­nity right now to get it right. We can cap­i­tal­ize on who we are and what we have and make it bet­ter. The in­flux of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents and im­mi­grants in re­cent years has led to in­creased di­ver­sity of peo­ples through­out the city. With new peo­ple come new ideas and new op­por­tu­ni­ties.

One could ar­gue that if Jane Ja­cobs was still alive she’d be vis­it­ing Syd­ney to see what we have go­ing here; maybe do some sight-see­ing, even take a good long walk along the shore line. It is a place worth see­ing.

Join us this Satur­day at 1 p.m. at the mon­u­ment to the orig­i­nal Membertou com­mu­nity (336 Kings Rd.) for a two-hour walk along the har­bour to­wards the big fid­dle. All are wel­come. The sun may even show up.

Syd­ney has a great op­por­tu­nity right now to get it right.

Paul MacDougall, whose col­umn, “The Sport­ing Life,” ap­pears monthly in the Cape Bre­ton Post, teaches in the Pub­lic Health and En­gi­neer­ing De­part­ments at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity. He can be reached at paul_­mac­dougall@cbu.ca


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