From Mount Pleasant to the West End, Vancouverites of different ages and backgrounds went out for a walk — a Jane’s Walk.
The Jane’s Walk initiative is rooted around the ideas of late urban theorist, journalist and activist, Jane Jacobs. An advocate for human relations and community building within the city, she encouraged many across cities and disciplines to stand in favour of a people-friendly city and against invasive projects that jeopardize human interactions. Each Jane’s Walk, occurring in urban areas all over the world, encourages citizen engagement and a community-based approach to understanding the city.
From the iconic Granville Bridge to the city’s vibrant neighbourhoods that embody various aspects of the urban, the Vancouver walks were arranged around a specific topic, like community building, heritage preservation, renovation and development, or even public art. The tours “make space for every person to observe, reflect, share, question and collectively reimagine the places in which they live, work and play,” as the Jane’s Walk Community Organization mission states.
On Friday morning, two members of the City of Vancouver’s Granville Bridge Project invited us walkers to reflect on Granville Bridge and imagine what its future would and should be. We learned its great width comes from previously thwarted highway plans across Vancouver. The bridge stands as an emblem for citizen engagement in the planning process, which aims to prioritize safety and accessibility without compromising transport effectiveness, following Jacobs’ belief that cities are for people.
A walk on Sunday centred around Mount Pleasant’s Heritage Heart and the diversity of public art found from Downtown to Chinatown. We were enlightened to histories and legacies of events left or torn down through the art and buildings in the area. We took away concepts like intangible heritage and human scale buildings, which refer to those structures amiable to humans instead of tall and imposing ones that, in words of the first walk’s leader Christine Hagemoen, “make you feel part of the machine.”
A symbolic reading of the cityscape accompanied both walks. With this special attention drawn to the environment around us, we saw the heart-shaped stained-glass at 8th Ave and Main St, as well as the bell that celebrates Vancouver’s sister cities in China. John Steil, co-author of book Public Art in Vancouver, and leader of the walk, encouraged us to keep our eyes and mind open to the various pieces embedded in the cityscape, including some quote-engraved tiles near the Public Library, along with murals, mosaics and war memorials.
All walk leaders were knowledgeable of both their topic and city area, giving a well-informed and deeply anecdotal account of Vancouver spaces — both their historical and current use, as well as their symbolic meaning and value. Most importantly, they all highlighted the intention to spark a genuine interest for the city one cruises through everyday — whether it be by engaging in city planning, recognizing the heritage value of our neighbourhoods, or by encouraging our artistic curiosity and attentiveness to detail. By walking, Jane Jacobs’ legacy of creating a more human city lives on in Vancouver.