2011 Jane’s Walk in Old Strathcona

The name Jane Jacobs is virtually synonymous with pedestrianism and vibrant communities. Even after her death, she continues to inspire new generations with her philosophy about what cities could be. One such way is through Jane’s Walks, tours done annually the first weekend of every May that gather like-minded and curious individuals together in order to explore neighbourhoods on foot:

Jane’s Walk honours the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Jane’s Walk often takes Jacobs’ ideas to communities unfamiliar with her ideas, in order to advance local engagement with contemporary urban planning practices.  The walks helps knit people together into a strong and resourceful community, instilling belonging and encouraging civic leadership.

I’m a bit of a walking tour junkie when travelling, but love to discover new facets of Edmonton this way as well. I remember being regretful about missing the 2010 Jane’s Walk, so was sure to make a note of it when the 2011 date was announced. So on Saturday morning, I joined a group of about two dozen folks at the Queen Alexandra Community Hall for a walk through Old Strathcona.

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Photo op!

Interestingly enough, although the tour was officially led by Karen Tabor of the Old Strathcona Foundation and Shirley Lowe of the Old Strathcona Business Association, there were a handful of City of Edmonton employees, including a retired city planner and a staff of Responsible Hospitality Edmonton that took part in the tour and would occasionally pipe up to share their expertise.

Though I recognize that it is naive to think that one could conduct a tour of such a historic community without referencing its past, I didn’t expect it to end up as one of the major focuses. I have to say I was hoping for much more of what was brought up at the start of the walk – the small but important details that contribute to walkability, such as well-maintained sidewalks, traffic calming, and the aesthetically pleasing and safety enhancing benefits of tree-lined streets.

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Traffic calming – narrowing the street to reduce car travel speeds

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Trees help separate the road from the sidewalk

A few historic features of the neighbourhood were highlighted that I found interesting. The Bard Residence (10544 – 84 Avenue) still has its rear carriage house intact, though when it was originally built, it also had a 180 degree turntable installed to make backing out with a horse and buggy easier. Also, I had to chuckle when the guide told us that following the amalgamation of Strathcona with Edmonton, the former Strathcona City Hall was turned into a juvenile detention centre.

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Bard Residence

Shirley talked about some of the developments that help contribute to the area’s vibrant nature. For example, the Strathcona Public Library will be again putting on an “outdoor reading room” with movable tables and chairs and wifi in McIntyre Park. But instead of offering it during the day, they will be concentrating their efforts on early evenings and weekends. Look for it in July.

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Strathcona Public Library and McIntyre Park

Shirley also mentioned that the small green space just north of what used to be the Iron Horse is slated for a $350,000 redevelopment. It will not only see the introduction of more plants and shrubs, but in recognition of the park’s location as the former railway hub, it will be designed to look like two train wheels from above.

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The park won’t look like this for long

While I enjoyed finally being able to participate in a Jane’s Walk, I have to admit that I didn’t feel I learned enough to warrant the two and a half hours I spent with the group. It was mentioned that the annual tour will trace a different path every year – if that is the case, I wouldn’t mind joining the group again, but would hope for more attention to be paid to aspects of walkability.

2 thoughts on “2011 Jane’s Walk in Old Strathcona

  1. I am not sure I get your point, Sharon – “attention be paid to aspects of walkability”
    Do you mean conversations about how this is or is not a walkable neighbourhood and what should be done to make it more walkable – so a more political walk with an end goal in mind to determine whether that neighbourhood is walkable?
    This was the first I heard of it – this year, through Su, and I still don’t really get the concept, even after reading this. To walk more, all neighbourhoods need corner stores, walk to schools, and accessible facilities within each neighbourhood… libraries, police stations, etc. I am all for that. Especially out here in Lewis Estates. I MISS the old corner store concept and I detest these neighbourhood strip malls that have replaced them. They are not as safe and create more pollution (in my own mind)
    Thanks for the information – but I will have to learn more. I just don’t understand the entire concept – and if I was going to just go for a walk through a neighbourhood I would definitely want it to focus on history. But, that is me.
    So much to do. So little time.
    🙂

  2. Valerie – I haven’t been feeling very articulate this week…I think it definitely showed in this post!

    I honestly think I just had very specific expectations for what I thought a Jane’s walk would be – in your words, probably more of a “political walk”, yes, and more ideas for what we, as average citizens, could do to encourage more such developments in a city that is very car-centric.

    I would think it would also depend on the tour guide, but those amenities you mentioned (corner stores, schools, cafes, etc.) to me are the “obvious” things that make a community walkable – but what are the things that stitch them together that make a community greater than just the sum of its parts? (and for the record, this walk did pass by one of its neighbourhood schools and site of a former corner store…but I did not to write about it.)

    Mack and I have been thinking a lot about this lately – the question of how to make living centrally more attractive to people, in the face of our rapidly developing suburbs.

    With regards to the history of the neighbourhood – I’m all for it – but unlike Jane’s Walk, where the focus is on pedestrian-friendly areas – there are other festivals (such as Doors Open Alberta) that specifically celebrate our heritage.

    Anyway – as I said, my expectations were probably too high. I would definitely participate again, and would encourage you to do the same in the future – if time permits, of course :).

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