Walk Leader: Sharon Vanderkaay
Text by: Sharon Vanderkaay
This walk was really an experiment because nearly all of the conversation content came from participants. I wanted everyone to practice analyzing different settings, so I took a chance on changing my role as leader to that of asking only two basic questions: “How do you feel in this space?” and “What elements do you think are affecting how you feel?”
I encouraged people to “think out loud” during this walk as we shared our observations. This approach worked better than my greatest expectations.
Jane Jacobs wanted us to be more observant about what is actually happening on our streets, to notice the effect of elements in our environment. My route was selected based on the variety of types of spaces it offered—from high end shopping to chain stores to bohemian student hangouts. Together we analyzed such therapeutic visual elements as vitality, variety, nature, legacy and cultural connections. We talked about how different places affect our state of mind and ultimately our state of health.
The conversation was lively and insightful throughout the walk. I had created an informal diagnostic scorecard to help us get started. Participants built on their revelations so that by the final stop (near the street where Jane had lived most of her life) people were really attuned to a wide range of elements.
Some participants commented on the importance of supporting small businesses because they add so much to the interest of a street compared with banks or chain stores. Several people told me that they now saw the street they so often travelled with fresh eyes.
Critiques of architecture and public places tend to be about style and density, likes and dislikes. Rarely do people analyze how places make them feel. I believe more critical eyes on the street can raise public expectations for design that makes us feel better.