First Jane’s Walks set off in London 5th-6th May 2012

Jane Jacobs is perhaps the most influential modern urbanist and certainly one of my urban heroes. She wrote the Death & Life of Great American Cities (1961) which exposed the flaws and human impact of decades of modernist, overly technical and scientific approach to planning and designing places and buildings that pervaded in post-war western cultures. She advocated instead the art of observation in getting to the bottom of how places and communities work. Her insights into how everyday urban life is shaped and in turn shapes the built environment was a tonic from the cold and clinical approaches to urban design that had come before.

Her method was to walk and watch an as a result she painted a picture or modern urban America that was in parts unsettling and ugly but also pointed to the beauty in the informal, everyday and ordinary. She was a tireless activist for community-led regeneration and development and railed against top-down paternalistic approaches to planning and developing our places that threatened to destroy the urban fabric of our cities.

Jane passed away in 2006 yet her legacy lives on, not only through the thousands of urbanists she has influenced through her ideas and philosophy but more practically through an organisation called Jane’s Walk Jane’s Walk is a celebration of Jane Jacob’s life and work by getting people out exploring their neighbourhoods and meeting their neighbours! Jane’s Walk takes place annually on the first weekend of May, to coincide with Jane Jacobs’ birthday. It was inaugurated on May 5, 2007 in Toronto by a group of Jane’s friends and colleagues who wanted to honour her ideas and legacy.

However there has never been a Jane’s Walk in London…….until now!

On the (wet) bank holiday weekend over 5th/6th May 2012 Liane Hartley of Mend and David Randall of Vital Kingston held the first walks that would be the Year Zero of Jane’s Walk London. Liane led a walk called WildHackney  which took in the changes that are taking place in Stoke Newington, Dalston and Haggerston and the weird, quirky and informal gems in the cultural landscape that are under threat of being lost under the blur of change and urban flux. We went exploring for the signs of everyday life that make these neighbourhoods unique and distinctive and talked about how to maintain them in the face of economic and social change. Not hard to see the impacts of this in Dalston which has become the epicentre of cool…..but for whom?

David took his crew of urban explorers around an estate in Roehampton hailed as being the brave new world of design and a model of utopian living in the 50’s… to mixed responses from its residents but not altogether unloved.

So what next? Well, it’s about seeing who would like to be part of Jane’s Walk 2013 and what role it plays in a growing organic flow of all things urban, psychogeographical, local and community driven. We would like to hear from anyone who loves cities, wants to explore them in ways other than a tour bus or a formal tour and maybe grow a new organisation dedicated to the art of seeing and the beauty of the everyday; the city that exists in our minds, hopes and hands and under our feet. We would like the focus of @JanesWalkLondon to be the walks but there will be other events taking place in the lead up including walks, talks, seminars, film showings and papers but we will need lots of help so email me here to get involved:

Thanks to the lovely Lynne, Joanna, Jill, Magda, Nicola, Pablo, Maria who came on the first ever walk and will be the founder members of Jane’s Walk London. We salute you!

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