Taking a Jane’s Walk in Leaside with Geoff Kettel

Geoff Kettel leads a group on Leaside’s special Jane’s Walk. Photo Al Toufighi.
Geoff Kettel leads a group on Leaside’s special Jane’s Walk. Photo Al Toufighi.

Did you enjoy one of the Leaside Historical Walking Tours, held on Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6, in conjunction with the Leaside 110 Archival Exhibit? These walks attracted a great turnout of 30 to 40 participants on each day – and not just from Leaside but across the city. The Leaside walks were registered as Jane’s Walks as part of the annual event in the first weekend of May, when thousands of people all over the world take to the streets… and walk.

Jane’s Walks was founded in Toronto in May 2007 as a living, walking commemoration of Jane Jacobs and her legacy as an urbanist and activist, whose writings like The Death and Life of Great American Cities championed a fresh community-based approach to city building. This year Jane would have been 107 years old! Jane’s Walk is well established as a grassroots city building movement that uses volunteer-led walking tours to “make spaces for people to observe, share, reflect, question and reimagine the places in which they live, work, and play, giving agency to, and championing the voices of everyday people” (from the Jane’s Walk website). 

Right now, in the middle of a Toronto mayoral byelection, is a good time to reflect on this inspirational vision. Who (among the eight or so leading candidates) embodies the fundamentally democratic vision of Jane Jacobs, and who the opposite – the one where money and speculation, rather than the voices of people rule the decision-making? It is apparent to me that there are vast differences among the candidates in that regard. If you get a chance in the next few weeks, do attend a mayoralty candidates’ meeting (in person or virtual) and ask the question: are you accepting donations from developers and unions, or only from individuals? And listen carefully to the answers.

Why veer into politics when all we are talking about is a simple neighbourhood walk? Frankly, because beyond the insights about walkability and urban design that we can learn from Jane Jacobs, she also contributed a radical critique of top-down power that we need to be cognizant of – especially in these times of “strong mayor” (weak council) and a premier who wishes he were mayor of Toronto.

Finally, when Leaside talks “Jane,” many of us automatically think of another Jane – our former councillor Jane Pitfield. In fact, she was remembered on the Leaside 110 weekend also – the Layers of Leaside Walking Tour booklet that guided our walk, starting and ending at the Leaside Public Library, was the same one created by Jane and me for the Leaside Centennial.  

Finally, many thanks to Mitch Bubulj, for whom Leaside is both hometown and “my town,” for leading the Friday Walk, and Ali Toufighi for supporting both walks with excellent photography.

About Geoff Kettel 222 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.