Jane's Walk - a chance to learn the history of your neighbourhood
On the first weekend of May every year, Jane’s Walk festivals take place in hundreds of cities around the world. The idea behind the walks is to encourage people to share stories about their neighbourhoods, discover unseen aspects of their communities, and use walking as a way to connect with their neighbours.
Auckland’s taking part again this year, with Panuku, the council’s urban regeneration agency, organising the walks.
Named after urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs, the walks have been held globally since 2007. Now tens of thousands of people take part in more than 200 cities across six continents. They’re led by locals - anyone who has an interest in the neighbourhoods where they live, work or socialise - and offer a personal take on the local culture, the social history and the planning issues faced by the residents.
Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centred approach to planning. For her, one of the main characteristics of a thriving urban centre was that people should feel safe in public spaces, even among complete strangers. Their “eyes on the street” provided informal surveillance of the urban environment. Jacobs believed strongly that local residents understood best how their neighbourhood works, and what is needed to strengthen and improve them.
Past walks around the world have explored a wide range of urban landscapes, from social housing slated for redevelopment to areas with a rich architectural and cultural heritage, to teen hangouts and secret gardens. Some are focused around historical themes more than geographical areas, for instance, some strolls have been built around ideas like the history of the bicycle, gay and lesbian history, places of relevance to the homeless, the history of ‘skid row’, and urgent planning matters facing certain neighbourhoods.
Auckland’s Alex Bonham is a Jane Jacobs fan, and this will be her second year taking a walk. “It’s a great way to connect with your local area and understand the history a bit more, the current issues and the people who live there now,” Bonham says.
A walking guide with Auckland Free Walking Tours, Bonham is taking people around Grey Lynn for this year’s event. She’s been doing her research and a visit to the local Farmers Market turned up an interesting snippet about horses. “They used to graze them at Cox’s Creek because the trams down Ponsonby Road were originally horse drawn, and there were loads and loads of horse drawn carts,” Bonham says. “So they’d graze them at Cox’s Bay.. until they got really old, and then they’d eat them.
“One person was telling us about how they were digging up their back garden for a sleep-out or something and they found a horses head. So yeah, when you walk around these areas all sorts of stories emerge and give you a greater sense of home.”
Anyone wanting to join Alex Bonham on her walk should turn up at the Grey Lynn Community Centre just before 10am on Saturday (May 4). It’ll take place rain, hail or shine. For information on other Jane’s Walks contact Panuku.