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.
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.
Traffic calming – narrowing the street to reduce car travel speeds
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.
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.
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.
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.