Why bother to walk in Sydney this weekend? Columnist Paul McDougall explains.
Why now? Why bother?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org