On Mar. 14, Jane’s Walk Waterloo Region organizers announced the in-person return of the community-led walking tour festival from May 5 to May 7, 2023. Community members organize and lead the walks to encourage urban exploration and neighbourhood connections.
Jane’s Walk Waterloo Region is one of the hundreds of locally-organized festivals honouring Jane Jacobs, a Toronto-based author and journalist who passed away in 2006. Originally from the U.S., Jacobs was an internationally-recognized activist who advocated against urban renewal projects that pushed city residents out of their neighbourhoods.
In the 1960s, Jacobs was instrumental in stopping a planned expressway in New York City that would have gone through parts of Chinatown and Little Italy. After moving to Toronto in 1968, she supported groups who opposed the construction of the Spadina Expressway.
Jacob’s May 7 birthday was proclaimed Jane Jacobs Day by the City of Toronto in 2007. Jane’s Walks began the same year with community-led walks showcasing local history, urban planning, and design.
Kae Elgie is one of the organizers of Jane’s Walk Waterloo Region and has been involved with the festival since 2010. She said the walks are opportunities to celebrate Jacobs and her commitment to connecting people and their neighbourhoods.
“Her friends wanted to commemorate her legacy because she made a huge impact on cities in general, and certainly Toronto. They started doing these walks, which were what Jacobs did—walk around the city and talk about what works and what doesn’t work,” Elgie said.
Anyone in the community can organize and submit a walk for consideration in the festival. Individuals organize all the walks and Jane’s Walk Waterloo Region promotes them on its website and social media channels. Elgie added the organizers actively work to ensure there are walks across the region’s downtown cores.
“I remember someone did a walk that was from the perspective of a dog in the city. There have been other walks to explore how people with disabilities or kids get around certain or not get around certain neighbourhoods,” Elgie said.
“We try to have conversations about some of the tough social issues that are going around,” she said.
Priyanka Khimasia is a new member of the organizing committee for 2023 and owner of the Great Canadian Sox Shop in Cambridge. Originally from Toronto, Khimasia studied urban planning at the University of Waterloo, including Jacob’s activism in New York City and Toronto. She participated in Jane’s Walks there and said she enjoyed the interactive nature of the walks.
After moving to Cambridge two years ago, she said she wanted to participate in walks here, but the festival was on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Cambridge is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Khimasia said it is the perfect time to welcome people back to the city’s core.
“It’s sad to see such a beautiful city so quiet. Jane’s Walks are a great way to bring people downtown to remind them these are beautiful spaces. It’s your city, you should be involved,” Khimasia said.
This year’s festival is the first one since 2019 and Elgie said that the organizers recognize that many people are still nervous about large gatherings. The walks are all outdoors and typically have around 20 participants.
“I think people have missed the opportunity to connect. These walks are a great way to discover new places, talk to neighbours, and ask questions,” Elgie said.
Jane’s Walk Waterloo Region is currently accepting walk submissions. Khimasia said there is already one walk planned for Cambridge, a tour of the Cambridge Sculpture Gardens, Ferguson Cottage, and McDougall Cottage.
“I think it’s especially important for people to connect with their cities again. You can have people over in your backyard, but it’s a different experience when you’re downtown and engaging with the space,” Khimasia said.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.