A Traveller's Jane's Walk

Enrich your travel experiences by experiencing new cities like you're on a Jane's Walk

Arleigh Hack, April 20, 2016

A street scene in Nepal. Photo by Arleigh Hack.

As an experienced traveller, I most enjoy exploring new cities on foot. You can digest the local culture, sights and sounds best at this scale. Walking through the streets of foreign cities, you get a glimpse of life in a different cultural context, and by learning about this strange new place, you also learn a little more about your own city. For example, walking around Panama City, dodging open pot holes and stalking locals to jaywalk with due to the lack of pedestrian walkways on wide busy streets, made me reflect on walkability issues in Toronto. In discovering what constitutes a community hub in different neighbourhoods of different cities—like a popular street lassi café in Kathmandu, versus Sugar Beach on the Toronto Waterfront—you discover similarities and differences between cities that you may not learn off the Internet or in a book.

So, just as I believe it is important to get out, explore and learn about the places in which you live, I think there is plenty to gain by doing the same while abroad. You might just learn something new, or build new connections with different people and places from other walks of life. Exploring foreign cities has opened my eyes to Toronto and inspired me learn more about my own city; finding uncharted neighbourhoods here can be just as exciting as checking another city, in another country, off my bucket list. One example: two years after returning from Nepal, I discovered that there is a Nepalese community in the Parkdale neighbourhood in Toronto, and finally got to taste the amazing food I’d desperately missed—so close to home!

I would like to share my own ideas about how to conduct your own Jane’s Walk for yourself, even in a city you don’t belong to, at any time of the year. It might just enrich your travel experience and strengthen your global awareness. I think that too often, travelers can say they have seen a place, but have never truly been there, as they do not attempt to learn from the places they visit. Applying the values of Jane’s Walk to your travel plans can help with this, and generate a global consciousness about community in city building and cross-cultural understanding. Jane’s Walk is a great way to discover your own city, but also a tool to learn about others!

Arleigh’s Tips:

Do background research

  • Learn about the city beforehand: cultural beliefs, practices, lifestyle and history.

  • If there is no language barrier, and if you feel comfortable, talk to your hostel or hotel staff, Jane’s Walk City Organizers, or locals about the area. People love to talk about where they live and how they live, and can give you insiders’ perspectives.

  • Take a free walking tour, or pay a guide.

Be aware, observe, and record what you find!

  • Note the aspects of the built environment or social characteristics that stand out most to you (street art, busy shops, green space, group activities, religious monuments, etc.)

  • Spend a day just exploring the streets, not focused on hitting major tourist attractions

  • Ask questions: Where do people gather? How do people get around? How walkable is this neighbourhood or city?

What would Jane Jacobs think?

  • Are there eyes on the street?

  • Is there mixed-use space (residential with commercial with public space?)

  • Are historical building and areas protected?

  • Are there thriving sidewalks?

  • How do these observations manifest themselves differently in different cities?

How does this differ from your hometown or other cities you have traveled to?

  • Are there similarities or differences?

  • What can your city learn from the one you are in now? And vice versa?

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