Apart from sharing a first name, Jane Jacobs and Jane-Finch aren't usually associated with each other.
The late urban guru championed high-density, mixed-use, walkable neighbourhoods, not communities held hostage by the automobile.
Jane-Finch, with its yawning gaps of seeming urban nothingness broken up by high-rise apartment buildings, typifies postwar, car-crazy development gone wrong.
Many old-guard urban activists, still dining out on stopping the Spadina Expressway, have long regarded the inner burbs, if they consider them at all, an irreparable basket case, a cautionary example of what not to do when it comes to planning neighbourhoods.
But on Sunday's (May 4) Jane Jacobs Walk through the 'hood most of Toronto has heard of but never visited, the 100 or so downtowners who've ventured from the core for a peek are treated to a groundbreaking look at city-building that would have pleased Jacobs to no end. You can feel the dynamism here, the community spirit and the great potential.
Having grown up in the north end of Scarborough, I know too well what a suburban walking tour is - namely, something to avoid.
You don't "stroll" in the burbs unless you just missed the bus. Things are too far apart. So a walk through Jane and Finch? This I had to see.
Our tour guides are neighbourhood kids, most of them still in high school, so it's fitting that the first place we walk to is Tadmore's strip mall, a popular after-school hangout a stone's throw from the rambling Brookview Middle School.
Our guide, who's been back and forth between Toronto and Jamaica her whole life, wants to tell us how great the poutine is at the mall's two rival fish-and-chips shops. Yep, poutine wars.
She also wants to explain the subtle differences between the customer service at the two, one being a bit more relaxed than the other if you give them "short money." It's an early hint that we white folk, and we are mostly all white on this tour, are going to have various aspects of our headspace rearranged this afternoon in the early May sunshine.
We walk south toward Finch, pausing for a moment across the road from the Jane and Finch Community and Family Centre.
"This is the hub of the neighbourhood," our guide tells us.
It's a surreal moment, because as she describes the centre's 30 years of grassroots action, all we can see is a nondescript high-rise apartment building. Finally, someone asks,RWhere is this centre exactly?"
"Oh, it's inside the apartment building."
Makes sense to put a community centre smack where people live, rather than plonking it down where no one can get to it.
We hike further south and wind through the Jane-Finch Mall, where, although it's packed, a young African-Canadian kid finds room to demonstrate to her mother how to dance to the Bollywood tune blasting from one of the kiosks.
Employment services agency JVS runs a youth centre here. Ziggy Miller tells us he was a bit of an aimless kid who happened to stumble on the centre while hanging out at the mall. It's changed his life.
At Yorkgate Mall, a bit further east on Finch, is The Spot, the neighbourhood's main multi-use drop-in centre.
Hmm, malls and high-rises. Maybe not much can be done about the way Jane-Finch looks on the outside, but the strip malls are exploding with a wild variety of indie shops, restaurants and cafés. There's not a Starbucks in sight.
None of my fellow walkers have been here before. "It looks like the suburb I grew up in," says one. "But listening to these kids describe it is really exciting."
The place is literally teeming with kids, in contrast to the inner core, where the shrinking number of children is leading to school closures.
"For every bad thing that goes on here, there are 10 great things happening that never get reported," says Miller. And then, with a mix of surprise and delight, he adds, "We didn't think anyone would come today."