Take a Walk on the Jane Side

Spring is just around the corner, so here's a bright idea to celebrate the season and discover hidden pleasures in your neighborhood-- organize a Jane's Walk.

Since 2007, thousands of people in more than 50 cities around the world enjoy time during the first weekend of May exploring nature, culture, history and architecture in their own backyard as way to mark Jane Jacobs birthday.

Jacobs, mother of today's urban livability movement, revolutionized how we think about our communities in her landmark book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).  Her common sense approach to saving urban neighborhoods emphasized walkable streets and community connections over freeways and massive urban renewal schemes.  

Her friends and colleagues in Toronto-- her adopted hometown-- organized the first Jane's Walk the year after her death, and the tradition quickly spread across Canada and then to places as far as Omaha, Madrid and Mumbai.

Organizing a Jane's Walk is simple, and provides the perfect excuse for getting outdoors in the fresh spring air to research what's cool about your neighborhood. Each walk is initiated by volunteers who chart an interesting course that shows off the area's special spots and unique character.  Some Jane's Walks have focused on gay and lesbian history, homeless people or urban planning controversies.

You don't need a history or architecture degree to lead one, just the curiosity to dig around in local history, urban ecology, social issues and cultural assets.  Team up with your friends to share your collective knowledge.  

A few years back, before Jane's Walks, I took a similar tour of my neighborhood in Minneapolis from local historian Tom Balcolm who pointed out a row of Victorian houses that once graced a country estate, the tiny storefront where famed record producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carry and the Spice Girls) first set up shop, and the site where a Northwest Airlines plane crashed into three houses in 1950, killing 15. Finding out about these places made me look on neighborhood in a new light.

Here's how to get started.

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