Submitted by Juanita Metzger
The first weekend in May has quickly become known as Jane's Walk weekend. That's when thousands of people from neighbourhoods around the world join up with friends to take in free guided walks offered in their town or city. People get a chance to learn something new, discover a new part of their city, meet new (or existing!) neighbours and get in touch with the environment. Jane's Walk helps neighbours and residents feel more connected to their community. WRCPC believes that a more connected community is a safer community. That's why we got out and walked and encouraged the whole city to walk with us!
Jane's Walk is in honour of Jane Jacobs, an urbanist and activist whose ideas came to prominence in New York in the early 1960's. Her observations and writing were in response to city building that focused on car-centric development that effectively cut people off from each other, their neighbourhoods and their sense of place. Jane Jacobs believed that vibrant, dynamic, healthy and safe places need a sense of connection and that local residents must be involved in their own neighbourhood and city development. Jane Jacobs' ideas of the city as an ecosystem have influenced generation of planner, architects, politicians, activists and citizens, just like you and me.
Jane Jacobs believed in connection to place - connection and knowing a place intimately cannot be done by looking at models and inventing dream cities, rather, Jane would say, "You've got to get out and walk!" She would say you've got to get to know you place - get to know it's history, what and who has shaped it, how it is changing, what works well, what doesn't work... who lives there and what might be its potential for the future. And that's exactly what we did on our Jane's Walk on May 5th. We brought together neighbours and residents to explore, discuss, ponder about possibilities and test out new perspectives.
The theme of our Jane's Walk this year, lead by the Safe and Healthy Advisory Community Advisory Committee of Kitchener and the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, focused on what makes a neighbourhood or street feel vibrant, dynamic, safe and healthy. We used the 'Power of 10' - a concept developed by the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) to shape our walk. The Power of 10 is the ideas that every city or town has 10 identifiable destinations/districts. Each district has 10 places within it and each place has 10 things to do around it. When a place does this successfully, ten or more things or activities create an energy that is easily felt and identifiable.
Ten things might include places to sit, food, snacks and beverages, history to experience, music to hear, a playground to enjoy, art to touch or experience, people to meet, information to read, a green space or natural feature and walking/cycling trails or access to public transit.
During our walk of Downtown Kitchener, we examined 4 places that are identified & promoted as major places within the downtown district. We visited The Tannery (in the newly named Innovation District), Victoria Park, Market Lane & the Kitchener Market area, and the Centre in the Square. Each location prompted a lively interaction about its merits and what might improve the dynamics and vibrancy of some places that seemed to be lacking.
You might be wondering what this has to do with "smart on crime" or "crime prevention" or "safety". Both PPS and Jane Jacobs would agree that the way a physical space is designed, promoted, maintained and managed has an impact - positive or negative - on the type of activity that happens in a place. Places that have a multi-purpose usage at varying times of the day and night and includes and engages a diversity of people, tend to be more vibrant, dynamic, safe and healthy place. Essentially, if we can reduce the likelihood of crime occurring and reduce the fear of crime through physical design and increased dynamic activity, that's a pretty smart approach to crime prevention.
The four places we visited got mixed reviews on their success as a 'great place' with 10 or more things to do around them. Although, Victoria Park was clearly a 'great place' where people could easily identify 10 activities in close proximity. I invite you to go visit the four places and decide for yourself! Let us know what you think.
A crowd gatherings at The Tannery in the spring evening sun.
Juanita Metzger sets the stage for the "Community to the Power of 10" Jane's Walk.
K. Jennifer Bedford talks about Victoria Park from the perspective of someone who lives in the neighbourhood.
What you can't see in this photo is the scene that played out, over Jennifer's shoulder, behind the pillar. A group of 10 - 12 youth where in the middle of an escalating argument. It seemed certain that someone was about to be hurt. Somehow, the presence of 70 people, suddenly looking on seemed to diffuse the situation. Jennifer responded to the situation beautifully - who wouldn't take notice when a megaphone projected voice suddenly competes (and wins) over the shouting argument!
Never a dull moment on our walks!
Bill Rieck also talks about Victoria Park from the perspective of someone who lives in the neighbourhood. Victoria Park very clearly held 10+ things to do - it was easy for the crowd to spot and name them.
Mark Garner, Executive Director, Kitchener Downtown Business Improvement Association gives a history and tour of Market Lane & the Market area of Downtown Kitchener.
Friends take a break on the wall entrance to Victoria Park.
A crowd of 70 people stretches out over a whole block!! But it was always easy to follow the signs.
We finished up our Jane's Walk at the Centre in the Square.
The crowd gets to compare the four places we visited on our Jane's Walk.
This Jane's Walk had some real magical moments. Many people felt they had looked at very familiar places with a new perspective. With such a simple tool like "The Power of 10", many people felt they could easily use the concept to examine and talk about their own street or neighbourhood in a new way.
But the most magical moment came at the end of the walk. As people drifted away in to the night, under the rising super moon, Elif Günçe, a recent immigrant to Canada and Kitchener and a woman I've met online and at various community meetings came to tell me how much she enjoyed the walk. Elif and her fiancée, who was visiting from Turkey, decided to come on the walk in order to explore their potential new home community. In fact, Elif and her fiancée were so impressed by the energy, enthusiasm and engagement of the walk participants that they decided, then and there, they would make Kitchener their new home when her fiancée returned to Canada permanently. That's the power of community in action! Powerful enough that two people would be so inspired by citizen and resident passion for building a vibrant, dynamic, safe and healthy community that they would make it their new home.
When you get the chance to take a Jane's Walk next year, take it. You just never know what might happen.