Jane’s Walks Weekend

Maybe the closest thing I have to a religious holiday is Jane’s Walk weekend. This is held on the first weekend in May. A bunch of people (sometimes city planners, but sometimes regular citizens) get together to conduct walking tours about some aspect of where they live. Sometimes the walks are historical tours (I tend to like these). Sometimes they are led by activists (and thus tend to be boring and preachy). Some walks get repeated year after year, and some show up once and disappear forevermore.

Some of the more memorable walks I have attended include:

  • A history of old factories from the 1800s.
  • A birdwatching expedition in a local park.
  • The history of aforementioned local park, where I learned the purpose of the park is to be the local storm sewer(!)
  • A neighbourhood tour where the guide pointed out old family houses of founders (and the families that had 18 kids)
  • A graveyard tour where I found out the histories of some people who are now street names.

Jane’s Walks are named after Jane Jacobs, the thinker and activist who is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities. That book is pretty good, but a lot of her subsequent work is super-interesting but more obscure. She wrote a book called Systems of Survival which frames societal conflict as a struggle between two ethical systems: Commerce and Guardians. That book broke my mind. Her writing does that a lot. Like many of the great thinkers in this world, she is interesting even when she is wrong. It is well worth exploring her back catalogue.

Anyways, lots of people (especially urban planners) worship at the altar of Jane Jacobs, and in her honour (?) they set up this Jane’s Walks thing. I like the walks because they address the problem of beginner’s mind: all too often we live in a place and take it for granted, without investigating its history or places of interest. Then some friends come to visit, and they are amazed by all the neat things where we live. We only “see the sights” when others come to visit, and rarely when we are on our own. Jane’s walks offer opportunities to revisit the places we live with new eyes. At their best they teach me new things and offer context for why the place I live ended up where it is. At their worst they are boring and preachy, but at least I get outside instead of sitting in front of my computer all day.

I guess this is a big old advertisement for you to go on some Jane’s Walks this weekend? Am I really that much of a sellout? Yes, I guess I am.

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