Five Must-See Jane’s Walks

No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities. Youve got to get out and walk.

From Jane Jacobs’ Downtown Is For People, 1957

A quick read of Jane Jacobs first essay for Fortune Magazine on the future of urban landscapes, and youd think it was written in response to the myriad of city and infrastructure questions that Toronto is facing today. Whats interesting is not only its publication date – its turning 58 years old this year – but its prescience.

The self-taught urban activist and community advocates influence continues to be felt far and wide through the evolution of architecture and city planning and policy. Her writing balances the idealism of what cities can be with the realism of what it takes to get there.

A Toronto resident from 1968 until her death in 2006, her life and works are the inspiration for Janes Walks, the annual weekend of free, organized walks all over the city that tries to capture the spirit of Jacobs ideas.

Now in its ninth year, the walks, on from May 1 to 3, have evolved from 17 in 2006 to more than 177 this year. The events beginnings as a simple attempt to encourage a sense of community have led to something much bigger, with treks through the natural landscapes and history of Toronto coexisting alongside walks with a social justice purpose in mind. Here are five to check out this weekend. Go to janeswalk.org for details.

Walking with refugees in the West Bend Part of the class of Janes Walks that aims to highlight the Toronto lived in by certain marginalized groups, this walk organized by Romero House takes in the area north of High Park and south of the Junction. Walk leader Salvator Cusimano, a Romero House employee, will be guiding walkers through the West Bend, stopping to learn about the places around the neighbourhood that provide key help to refugees that arrive from abroad. This includes the local Red Cross, often the first point of contact for refugees arriving in Toronto. Each stops significance will be explained by members of the Romero House community who have lived experiences as refugees.

Poetry in motion The Scarborough Poetry Walk coincides with the recent launch of the Toronto Poetry Map, a collaborative effort between the Toronto Public Library and Torontos poet laureate, George Elliott Clarke. Scarboroughs Agincourt Library marks the walk’s starting point and the reading of nature poems by local Jeevhan Bagwat. Walk leader Anna Niemenin will also be reading selections from other poets featured on the Poetry Map, including Margaret Avison, Dionne Brand, Glen Downie, and Clarke himself. Walkers are encouraged to bring their own poems to participate.

Graffiti Toronto A glimpse into the background of the city as a public canvas, one of the most popular Janes Walk routes each year has become ever-more timely given the increased focus on graffiti as an art form. The Graffiti Toronto walk takes a closer look at a small downtown chunk of Torontos graffiti from the colourful hug tree at Queen and Peter through alleyways adorned with street art west of Spadina. Its not a long route, but walk leaders Jason Kucherawy and Kit Weyman will be giving a crash course in the art itself, teaching walkers the history, the context and the etiquette of street art in Toronto and across the world.

Urban legends of West Queen West This walk through Trinity Bellwoods Park and the surrounding streets aims to shed a light on the darker history of the area. From the Provincial Lunatic Asylum (the official name for the site that has evolved into what is now the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) to the old Trinity College that used to stands where the park now sits, whats reconstructed during the walk is sometimes history and sometimes urban legend.

Geocaching on the Danforth Most people dont expect to find treasure when they go out for a leisurely stroll. A group of urban explorers around is hoping to change that. Geocaching is the moniker given to the extended network of hidden things. Its supported by geocachers, people who will find a spot, hide their wares, and mark the GPS location of the goodies on geocaching.com. The spots themselves are basically swap shops, with geocachers expected to replace something after theyve grabbed the original goodies. Oftentimes, online listings will contain clues as to the treasures exact whereabouts the answer to these clues can lie in anything from a riddle to old-fashioned encryption keys. Walk leader Denise Pinto has taken the time to hide some geocache treasures of her own for her tour of Danforth and Donlands. Learn more about the city and see how geocaching can be a part of that education.

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