A city’s vibrancy is that of its communities, namely that of the people who take part in its active building. Too often we hear that Ottawa is boring and there’s nothing going on, but that is the refrain of those uninvolved. Perhaps people who bemoan Ottawa are looking for a scene rather than a community. While we do have pockets of the former, I think Ottawa is much richer in its community ties, full of collaboration and support. To belong to that, you have to do more than just complain. So the time has come to join the community and this weekend offers just the opportunity.
This weekend, May 3 & 4th, Jane’s Walk Ottawa will work to change some hearts and minds with their civically engaged walking tours. The tours are all about placemaking, the process and philosophy of harnessing community assets and inspiration to make neighbourhoods more livable.
How it works is simple and free. You get local tour leaders who are passionate about a certain part of town. They develop a walkable tour of the area in question. You schedule the tours for the first weekend in May and invite everyone to take part!
The concept arose from the friends of the late Jane Jacobs, an impressive thinker on community building and urban planning, wanting to commemorate her life and work through a new initiative. The first Jane’s Walk was launched in 2007 in Toronto and it was an opportunity for locals to (re)discover their city.
As Jane’s Walk Ottawa’s Laura Mueller says “Jane’s Walk helps you discover the things around you that you may never notice. It helps you connect with both your neighbours and the city around you. Sometimes we don’t have a chance to really get to know the place we call home.”
Jane’s Walk Ottawa launched this year on Thursday May 1st at Arts Court, where the weekend’s hub will be. Throughout the weekend people can drop by, 10-4 on Saturday and 10-3 on Sunday, and take in “Ottawa in One Room,” a video installation by Jessica Aylsworth and Jon Booth. In addition to meeting other Jane’s walkers, it’s a chance to pick up refreshments and a sheet with the walk times on it.
“Jane’s Walk is really about celebrating the city, its history and sense of community” says Mueller. “We hope the walks help spread the word about different initiatives, groups and needs in our neighbourhoods and spark people’s enthusiasm for getting involved to make their city a better place.” How to do that is up to you. Jane’s Walk doesn’t have a direct activist role, but through its sharing hopes that people will take initiative in their own way, through joining the initiatives featured in the walks or by starting their own.
Jane’s Walk Ottawa has been exceptionally well received, as last year over 2,000 people participated. This enthusiasm has led to the growth of the organization, going from fourteen tours in 2008 to over fifty tours on offer this year.
This year there are both French and English walking tours. Among the fifity plus tours, is Jaime Koebel’s Indigenous Walking Tours, winner of a Soup Ottawa grant. There is also a Wild Food in the City: Urban Foraging tour with Amber Westfall. Energetic Buckingham is being offered with Michel Riberdy. Protests, Rebellion and Attacks on the Hill will be led by Ian Capstick. There’s even a 10 KM bike tour of Mostly True Tales of Ottawa History led by Dennis Van Staalduinen.
Ottawa has so much to offer locals. As Mueller says, “Everything from lectures at the National Art Gallery to shows at Gabba Hey to shoreline cleanups.” So spend your weekend getting out, rain or shine. Discover new neighbourhoods and get “fired up about making their city the best it can be.”
Finally, head out to the Jane’s Walk wrap party Sunday at 4 at Arts Court. Mueller says, “It’s a chance for everyone to get together and share what they learned over the weekend and talk about what got them fired up. It’s a chance to put faces to names and enjoy a beer after a weekend of walking!”