A year after Jane Jacobs died in 2006, a new tradition was born in Toronto, her adopted city – to collectively show passion for walkable, vibrant streetscapes. So popular is this two-day celebration coinciding with Jacobs’ birthday that cities all over North America and even abroad partake by holding their own walks.
More than a hundred routes can be taken in Toronto, each led by a knowledgeable volunteer who points out all manner of infrastructure and ecosystems – from heritage sites to condo developments, manicured gardens to graffitied laneways, city hot spots to veritable wastelands – uncovering history, politics and lore along the way. And while many attendees enjoy the lively discussions around urban planning, gentrification and city renewal, it’s often the revelations of esoteric, lesser-known facts that make the excursions fun and memorable.
1 Toronto: City as urban playground
This kid-friendly tour of the Financial District is led by David Butterworth of Kirkor Architects & Planners. Public art, underground paths and structures by modernist masters such as Santiago Calatrava, I.M. Pei and Mies van der Rohe will be explored. Saturday, May 5 at 10 am.
2. Cityscape/Soundscape: Exploring our Sonic Environment
Do you consider the hustle and bustle of the city noise or music to your ears? Take in the unique tunes and blissful moments of silence during this ‘soundwalk’ that starts at Toronto’s Sound Garden and ends at the Union Station. Saturday, May 5 at 5 pm.
3 Not a Cakewalk: West End Bakery Architecture
Led by ArchiText founder Zahra Ebrahim, this tour invites walkers to savour the design of some of the city’s best patisseries located in the west end. Warning: You might not be able to resist the treats within arms reach – fittingly, since the tour is meant to illustrate how spaces are designed to enhance desire. Saturday, May 5 at 1 pm.
4 West Don Lands Parks and River Walk
After much hoopla and heroics, the reinvention of a brownfield portion of this city’s waterfront is well underway, and apart from reclaimed park land and revived river beds, it will include affordable housing as well as the Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village. Join the committee that’s making it happen. Sunday, May 6 at 11 am.
5 Long Branch: A walk along ‘Main Street’
While condos seemingly sprout up every day in the downtown core, the city’s west end is also growing, and luring new residents to it. Rejuvenated Lake Shore Blvd. West communites, like New Toronto and Mimico, boast some undeniable small-town charms. Sunday, May 6 at 10:30 am.
Held rain or shine, there are plenty of Jane Jacobs’ walks to choose from. The full list can be found at janeswalks.net.