Saturday, May 7, 2011

Jane Jacobs - Jane's Walk

This year, 2011, is the 50th anniversary of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. This book introduced Jane Jacobs’ ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail.

Jane's most significant urban design ideas are encapsulated in the following four principles. In car-driven suburb-mad recency, they still seem heretical:
  1. Mixed primary uses that create traffic/vibrancy throughout the day 
  2. Short blocks to make neighborhoods more walkable 
  3. Mixed age and overhead buildings to enable a diversity of businesses 
  4. Population density
Jane was American-born (1916) but later lived as a Canadian resident (1968-2006[d]). She was neither trained as an architect nor urban planner, yet her ideas are still influencing urban space today. 
Jane's Walk, an annual event that began the year after her death, is gaining traction. More communities are signing up all the time to participate in this early May event. More and more individuals walk their community on that day to see how well (poorly) Jane's principles are in play in their neighbourhoods. 
As environmental demands continue to move us away from car-centric urban design, it will be interesting to see how quickly Jane's ideas are picked up in (sub) urban communities. As stated on the Jane's Walk web-site:
Walkability is a quantitative and qualitative measurement of how inviting or un-inviting an area is to pedestrians. Walking matters more and more to towns and cities as the connection between walking and socially vibrant neighbourhoods is becoming clearer. Built environments that promote and facilitate walking – to stores, work, school and amenities – are better places to live, have higher real estate values, promote healthier lifestyles and have higher levels of social cohesion.

I am still walking and/or taking the bus to and from work daily, and I have to rate the 5+ kilometre walkability factor in my community, Kelowna, as an "F". Although I walk along a major route (4 lanes), at times only one side of the road is walkable, or even maintained for pedestrians in the winter, particularly along a 1.5 kilometre section fronting a golf course.

Further, the urban planners allowed great sections along this roadway (Glenmore Road) to be effectively boarded off from the neighbourhood.. Long sections of the neighbourhood are cordoned off with monolithic fencing and zero access or street scale is provided for walkers. This also has the negative effect of producing very lengthy distances between bus stops.

I wish I could say that the planners and the development community have recognized their mistakes and have fixed things. However, many developments approved and marketed in Kelowna in the past ten years still suffer from exactly the same issues.

Learn more about Jane Jacobs:

Jane Jacobs Medal (Rockefeller Foundation)