Jane's Walk Detroit In Sherwood Forest, Greenacres Neighborhoods Celebrates Urbanist Jane Jacobs

05/03/2012 05:09 pm ET

What does Jane Jacobs, a Toronto-based urbanist who worked several decades ago have to do with two tree-lined neighborhoods in Detroit?

Plenty, say some residents of Sherwood Forest and Greenacres-Woodward, and they want to bring Jacobs's ideas to Detroit with an upcoming weekend jaunt.

The first Detroit-based Jane's Walk invites neighbors and metro Detroiters to take a two-mile walk that will explore the streets, local businesses and architectural history of the area tucked just south of 8 Mile Road between Livernois and Woodward Avenues. Organizers hope the walk will provoke some new ideas about neighborhoods and Detroit's urban design.

Well known for writing about cities and urbanism ahead of many critics of her time, Jane Jacobs passed away in 2006. In her most famous book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," she writes, "lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”

Jane's Walk started in Toronto in 2007, and there are now hundreds of global events, though this is the first for Detroit. The local Jane's Walk organizers hope the event, which they're also calling Live, Love Detroit, will spark others to follow suit next year with Jane's Walks in different neighborhoods.

"It's about connecting the dots, meeting people, having conversations," said Kim Tandy, president of the Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association, who grew up in the city and has lived in the historic district since 1997.

Some of those dots were connected earlier this year when Madhavi Reddy moved to Greenacres from Toronto. Meeting new neighbors, she mentioned organizing Jane's Walks back in Canada, and before she knew it, a casual conversation led to nine people coming together to organize a Detroit version of the walk.

The Sherwood Forest and Greenacres walk will stop by Hyde Park, Palmer Park, Woodlawn Cemetery and other sites, passing historic houses from the 1920s and '30s along the way. Together, the two neighborhoods have about 1,400 resident families. Tandy praised the area's diversity, as well as its accessibility, no matter the size of one's household or whether a family is looking to rent or buy.

"Having a nice neighborhood is about the people," she said. "This is something we work hard on, and you, too, can have it."

In a Huffington Post blog entry, journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz touches on Jacobs' legacy and how the Walks embody her ideals:

Jacobs, of course, was the 20th century's most articulate voice on behalf of the interconnectedness of urban functions, the idea that every city is like a fabric woven of many different threads all of which depend on each other for the strength of the whole.


Jacobs was a staunch opponent of any kind of centralized control and a great proponent of what has come to be identified as self-organized action, of which the Walks are a great example.

While Jane's Walks are not meant to be solely about community organizing and planning, it seems like a natural result.

"Again and again we're seeing examples of people sharing resources and coming up with ideas together," said Vickie Elmer, who had the first conversation with Reddy.

"I think the future of any city depends on us being able to work together," Reddy added.

The Live, Love Detroit Jane's Walk, free and open to the public, will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 6, starting at Mike's Market at 19195 Livernois, Detroit. The walking tour is about 2 miles long.

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