Tag Archives: neighbourhood

A Jane’s Walk to Remember

logo1_lLooking to get out this weekend? Want to connect with your community? It’s as easy as a walk in the park. Jane’s Walk is happening in our community and around the world this weekend. Jane’s Walks are free walking tours held annually, to celebrate the ideas and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs. Now in over 75 cities worldwide, more then 511 walks will take place this weekend and there is one happing near by.

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Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an activist and writer who took a community-based approach to city building and planning. She was not formally trained as a planner, but none the less she introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities should function. Many of her ideas are now seen as “common sense” to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists. To honour Jacobs achievements and ideas Jane’s Walk is organized on the first weekend of May to coincide with her birthday.

Jane’s Walks are led by individuals and small groups. Some are focused around historical themes, geographical areas, or even popular hangouts, for instance, some strolls have been built around ideas like the urban forestry, gay and lesbian history, places of relevance to the homeless, teen hangouts, and urgent planning matters facing certain neighbourhoods. The walks offer a more personal take on local culture and issues. They are not a tourist driven initiative but an insider tour of a neighbourhood that helps open up a friendly, engaged discussion amongst interested participants.” (JanesWalk.net)

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This year local architect John MacDonald will host a Jane’s Walk through the St. Mary’s Heritage Conservation District. The walk will highlight early suburban planning and architectural ideas which formed the neighbourhood today. The walk will include a tour of a newly renovated Victory home. John will explaining the architectural ideas behind updating this home to accommodate for today’s family, while maintaing it’s historic character and significance. The Walk will also be sprinkled with local anecdotes about the neighbourhood’s history and what life was like in this area through development. All are welcome to bring their local stories to share with the group. This Walk starts at 2:30 on Saturday May 4, 2013. More about the St. Mary’s Heritage Conservation District: Stories & History Walk can be found here: http://janeswalk.net/index.php/walks/canada/kitchener/st-marys-heritage-conservation-district-stories-history/ 

See a booklet on the history St. Mary’s neighbourhood here: St. Mary’s Heritage Conservation District- A Walking Tour (Booklet) This booklet was never published, but has great descriptions and photos of the neighbourhood. 

DSC_0017Copy There are lots of Walks happening this weekend throughout Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. Details on all Jane’s Walks can be found here: http://www.janeswalk.net/index.php/walks/canada/kitchener/ So get the family together, and enjoy what your neighbourhood has to offer. 

 

Neighbours Who Come Together Win Together

The Festival of Neighbourhoods is now 20 years old. As the new Festival year begins, we are feeling the pride of having been involved with this initiative since its inception.

The Festival of Neighbourhoods encourages people in Kitchener to come together with their neighbours. It is led by the City of Kitchener, the Social Planning Council of Kitchener-Waterloo and us, John MacDonald Architect.

The rules are simple: We ask people to think of their neighbourhood. Is it one or several streets, a few blocks, or a multi-residential building or complex? They must invite everyone within the neighbourhood to participate in community activities such as a potlucks, games, garbage pick-ups, barbecues, book or plant exchanges, weekly walks and anything else they can think of.

We ask the organizers to register their activities with the Festival of Neighbourhoods, and on the Festival Finale in October their neighbourhood could win a $10,000 capital improvement grant. In the past, these grants have been used to upgrade playgrounds, parks and streets. At the Festival Finale, neighbourhoods are also recognized for their efforts and awards are given for activities with values and features that make a stronger community.

John MacDonald and his firm became involved with this initiative when he became interested in the dynamics of healthy communities. As architects, our firm is interested in all aspects of what our cities are made of. This includes not just the roads and buildings, but also the relationships between people and the built environment, and finally, the relationships forged among people as they live in their community. The Festival of Neighbourhoods nourishes this last aspect of our community, encouraging people to get to know those who live around them by introducing fun and creative ways to break the ice and meet the neighbours. Over the past 20 year,  the Festival has shown us that connecting with our community creates a much greater sense of well-being, safety and belonging.

Over the years of involvement with the Festival, we have heard countless stories from participants who feel more welcome and involved within the community, enjoy seeing familiar faces on the street and watching their kids play together. This all seems small and ordinary, and yet these are huge success stories. These participants seek to create a better life for those who live in their community, and they do this themselves, right in their neighbourhood. A great example of a community gathering is Soupstock hosted by the Dekay St. neighbourhood. Watch this fun video here.

To learn more about the Festival of Neighbourhoods, go to www.kitchener.ca/fon, or even better, invite all your neighbours to do something together, and tell us all about it. Your story will undoubtedly inspire others to do the same.

Healthy Cities Help Raise Children

A few years back, our neighbours across the street in our downtown Kitchener neighbourhood (Victoria Park) proudly announced the impending arrival of their firstborn. “Fantastic!”, we said. “A playmate for our own children. More laughter up and down our street!!!” Alas, it was not to pass. The parents-to-be had another plan: a quick getaway to the outskirts of town. “We can’t raise children here. It really would be better for them in the suburbs.” Ouch! We waved goodbye through the exhaust of their moving van, and slunk back to our front porch to ponder our failure as parents. We knew as well as anyone the litany of evil that permeates our culture’s notions of “the City”, in stark contrast to its healthier and morally superior country setting. What were we thinking in exposing our offspring, their minds tender and not yet made up, to straight streets named after citizens, mature trees, and schools with two floors? While we weren’t swaddling them directly in unspoilt nature, couldn’t we at least procure the safety of pastoral scenes but a few subdivisions yonder?

As early as the 1950’s, that prescient urbanist Jane Jacobs lamented the geographic cleaving of North American cities along the lines of age and gender. Communities designed as a daily pattern of break-up, with breadwinners commuting each day to the concrete jungle, leaving the women and children safely ensconced in a more predictable, healthier, and “natural” setting. The gains we have made since those times (for women, for instance) have largely been about participation in this model, not as a fundamental change to it. If anything we have further reinforced the geographic isolation through public school closures and the relocation of high schools out of our downtowns, so that a teenager’s exposure to “life on the streets” is first minimised, and then redefined as a fearful dead end. Our children visit Downtown Toronto more than their own community cores, and they are now a second and third generation removed from any experience of the healthy hustle and bustle of a 1950’s main street.

We have planned our cities to reinforce a perception of urban streets as inherently dangerous. Our media dutifully report and dramatise this state of affairs. Statistics and facts are skewed in support of a powerful piece of urban mythology: Downtown is where the crime is! If we cannot eliminate it, then we should at least contain it geographically. Our hopes for the young and vulnerable are that they be protected from this den of iniquity, only bearing witness to the carnage through the flat screen of NYPD Blue, Cops, and sundry reality shows: the prime-time line-up from which our potential assailants are stereotyped.

Urban districts that do not include for children must surely be condemned as inadequate. The active presence of children is a fundamental measure for the health of our streets. Where they are absent, our design has failed. It is unfortunate that we have so few examples in North America for the integrated design of schools, shops, work, entertainment, recreation space, cultural experience, and accommodation within one geographic district. The City of Vancouver and other municipalities that lack a farm belt into which they might endlessly expand are leading the search for this new city form, and a return to a sustainable urban model for living. In the words of Larry Beasley, former Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver: “without its comprehensive ‘living first’ strategy, Vancouver would be lightyears behind where it needs to be. Most of all, the city would not have realized its dream for an urban lifestyle that will draw people back from their 50-year romance with the suburbs, bringing with them their resources, energy, and creativity to build the kind of remarkable city that an extraordinary natural setting and the city’s people so richly deserve.” Sound appealing? This weekend, why not explore a new frontier.  Bring your kids downtown.

People and Place

Here’s an excellent site with much discussion of the continuum among individuals, people, their lives and neighbourhoods, and our environment. Thank you to Carol Coletta, CEO of “Ceo’s for Cities” for the retweet to PeopleandPlace.net.

How do we act on the local and the global? Here are some ideas, at PeopleandPlace.net.

“The entire notion of neighborhoods in Portland is that they are vehicles for participation and engagement, key ingredients in the EcoDistrict concept. They are available equally to all neighborhoods and to all residents, landowners, and businesses within their boundaries.”

Hopefully more discussion of Portland won’t give them a swollen head.

Let us know what you think of the discussion and connections at People and Place.