"On Saturday, the first Princeton ‘Jane Jacobs Walk’ took place, honoring what would have been the 100th birthday of the famed urbanist. I’ve never been on a Jane’s Walk before, so it was a whole new thing. But it was great to get together with some local residents, and enjoy the great stuff that exists in our town. Although Princeton is a small town, there is much to discover, and in a group its even better because different people can point out different things that they know about. On this walk, we started from Small World Coffee East Nassau, at 254 Nassau St. Our group considered the nearby busy commercial area, much of which is zoned as ‘special services’ reflecting its history as a strip of automotive garages, gas stations and car dealers. (It is now a top dining destination in Princeton). The group was conflicted over the current plan to build a roof deck and screen in the front dining space at Blue Point Grill. Some people worry that it will take away what is currently a great informal outdoor community gathering space. Personally, I think it will be great, and I would like to see the new “Nina’s Waffle’s” open a similar outdoor dining area. This is what a Jane’s Walk is for: discussing what we like in the built environment, and thinking about what we would like to see more of."Read More
I found out about the Jane Jacobs walk at an Urbanista Sydney meeting earlier this year. (Urbanista is a global, collaborative network amplifying the voice of women by supporting ideas, projects and actions that create positive change in our cities and communities.) At the time I was working with a place making organization, Place Partners, to coordinate a mural on a blank wall along with some other temporary space activation projects along one of Sydney’s most well-known streets—Oxford Street. I met other passionate women who were hosting their own walks and it inspired me to show off Parramatta Road and Norton Street, as I had noticed people saying a lot of generalized statements about both of those places since I moved there. I thought it was time to show off some my favorite places and local finds of the area while also using it as a chance to talk about some of the issues within the area relating to urban development.Read More
1. What is your relation to Jane Jacobs Walks?
The organization I work with, StayLocal, supports New Orleans’ independent businesses. StayLocal is a non-profit founded in 2001 that promotes buying, sourcing, and supporting local. Our parent organization, the Urban Conservancy (UC), works to catalyze equitable policies and practices related to the urban built environment and the local economy through research, education, and advocacy. We thought it would be great to host a Jane Jacobs Walk together because her theories align with our work.
2. Can you describe Stay Local a little more? How exactly do you promote local businesses?
StayLocal aims to raise the visibility and viability of the New Orleans’ local businesses. We do this through educating the public on the importance of shopping local and providing businesses with the resources they need to be successful.
We also advocate for independent businesses on the local and national levels to ensure policy represents the interests of small business owners. StayLocal conducts original research and publishes reports and studies that drive systematic change to support a vibrant local economy.
3. Why were you interested in hosting a walk in New Orleans?
Our walk focused on the “West Mag” economic corridor in Uptown New Orleans. We brought in local architect and neighborhood resident, Marilyn Feldmeier, to provide historical context and to give her perspective on what makes a successful economic corridor.
Marilyn told us that the corridor has always been an economic hub. Over the years, our transit modes played a major role in shaping the corridor. The Whole Foods on the block once housed mules when carriages were the main form of transit, and later it became a streetcar station as transportation modes evolved.
On our walk, we spoke to several local business owners including Blake Haney from Dirty Coast Press, a New Orleans themed retail shop, and Tom Lowenburg from Octavia Bookstore. Both owners provided a unique perspective on the corridor. Blake spoke about how the city’s distinct character inspires his work, and the effects of national chains in the corridor. Tom’s story focused on his policy work to level the playing field for brick and mortar retailers by ensuring fair and equal taxation of online goods.
In relation to Jane Jacob’s theories, the more we buy and source from businesses that are firmly rooted here in New Orleans, the more resilient we become.
4. What are your hopes for the future of New Orleans’ community, maybe something related to the walk you did?
I hope that this city stays vibrant and diverse! Locally owned businesses imbue New Orleans with its unique character and aura of authenticity. They are a big part of why people want to live, work, eat, shop, and play here.
5. What are your goals for the participants when you host a Jane Jacobs Walk?
I hope they gain perspective - that they think about something in a new way or see their city in a different light. Whether it is noticing a new store, learning about issues local business owners face, or identifying with the meaning behind Dirty Coast’s “Be a New Orleanian Wherever You Are” stickers, Jane Jacobs Walks encourage residents to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the places they call home.
6. Anything else you would like to add?
I moved to New Orleans five years after Katrina, and there were few national chains. The chains were slow to re-build, but the local businesses were among the first to come back. Our independent businesses keep this city alive, keep it flourishing, and keep it unique!
We want to give out a huge thanks to Meredith Cherney for doing this interview, as well as her contribution to Jane Jacobs walks, her service to her community, and the work she does at StayLocal.
If you want to learn more about subjects mentioned in this interview, here are some links:
Tell me a little bit about yourself, how you came to know about Jane Jacobs Walks?
I’m a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, where I got my masters in City and Regional Planning. My work focuses on neighborhood planning, placemaking, and public space, particularly in low-income communities. I’m interested in dynamic community engagement techniques, including walking tours, which led me to run a series of Jane Jacobs Walks for my final graduate school masters project. The timing was also perfect as it was an opportunity to celebrate Jacobs’ 100th birthday.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the Walks you did at Chapel Hill?
I collaborated with the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership to run a four part event series under the name Dream up Downtown. Two of the walks explored the public spaces in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and the other two looked at the hidden elements of the built environment that give our cities a unique sense of place. The ‘hidden elements’ walks were inspired by the 99% Invisible Podcast. Local community members volunteered to help lead the walks, and in the end we had over 50 people participate in the event series. The walks garnered attention from the Mayor and other City officials, and as a result we ran an additional walk for City employees. We’ll also be running a couple more in the fall for incoming UNC students in the Planning and Public Administration programs.
Your walk focused on the small details of a city, and you mention the inspiration being the podcast 99 Percent Invisible, but was this also inspired by Jane Jacobs’ writings?
Absolutely. Jane Jacobs’ texts and ideas are ubiquitous in the study of planning, but I was curious about how well her theories are implemented in contemporary planning practice. In re-reading her work, it struck me that she believed deeply in the organic nature of cities, and that chaos is often the source of vibrancy, dynamism and a unique sense of place. One of the results of this chaotic, organic growth is that cities are often characterized by relics of the development process – things like historic architecture; idiosyncratic street designs; and aging infrastructure that keeps a city running, but goes unnoticed day to day. These elements of the built environment are central to the 99PI podcast, and also to Jacobs’ love for urbanism, which is how I came to develop the theme for the walks.
What are your goals for the Chapel Hill community as well as the participants of these walks?
Events like these have the power to encourage increased interest in and engagement with the future of our downtown. My hope is that the spring 2016 series was the beginning of a conversation about what is and isn’t working about our local public spaces, and who exactly they’re designed for and used by. I’d like to see a movement towards public spaces that are more inclusive for all members of the Chapel Hill community. I’m developing a guidebook for local community members who would like to organize and host their own walks. The guidebook is similar to the one provided by the Jane Jacobs Walk organization, but focuses on the unique nature of the Chapel Hill Community. By creating this resource I hope to ensure that Jane Jacobs Walks can continue in Chapel Hill in perpetuity.
Do you have any stories from your Jane Jacobs Walk?
On the first day of the event series we ran one of the public space walks and two little girls attended with their parents. We were walking through an alleyway between two buildings, and it was pretty overgrown. We were discussing what works and doesn’t work about the alley, and how it could be improved. During the conversation I overheard one of the kids say that she liked the alleyway as it was, with all the overgrowth, because it makes the space interesting. It was a great moment for me because this kid probably had one of the most insightful observations on the walk, and had unintentionally captured Jacobs’ ideas about organic growth and chaos in cities. It was also fascinating to watch the way in which the kids found creative ways to use and play in spaces that would otherwise be considered dead or underutilized. It was an experience that taught me to pay closer attention to how children interact with space – they have natural instincts that say a lot about the potential of the place.
We want to give a huge thanks to Mia Candy for doing this interview with us, and for her continuing dedication to her community at Chapel Hill as well as Jane Jacobs Walks.
If you’re interested in some of the things mentioned in this blog post here are some links: