Walk Leader: Karen Zabarsky
Text by: Karen Zabarsky
Photographs by: Alex Engel
One of the reasons people from all over the world are so attracted to New York City is that it never sits still. The streets flow with an ever-shifting urban dynamic between history and prospect, tradition and trend. I was inspired to set my Jane’s Walk on the cobblestone paths of Dumbo, Brooklyn – one of the City’s coolest neighborhoods – because this dynamic is visible everywhere you look. Here, on the shores of the historic East River, abandoned Civil War-era warehouses are being restored and re-used as tech office spaces and art galleries. Eighteenth century horse stables stand next to twenty-first century glass high-rises.
In leading my Jane’s Walk, I was delighted by the diversity of the audience, among them French tourists, decade-long Dumbo residents, a couple of Swedish professors and college students. We meandered through the neighborhood’s recently developed waterfront park and historic streets, and I noticed the crowd growing with interested passersby as we proceeded. Walkers stopped for photos by the river and snapshots of the famous Empire State Building view down Water Street.
Step by step, discussion spurred among the group about the changes being implemented in Dumbo. The diversity of the walkers fueled the dialogue further: international visitors were curious, students were engaged, and some locals expressed frustration. One walker argued that New York City should be in constant transition; another was concerned about residents’ ability to afford the neighborhood as its prestige grew.
In these final moments of discourse, I came to realize the beauty of Jane’s Walks as a public platform for conversation about the future of our cities. That spring New York day, everyone on the Jane’s Walk was able to ask: What do we want our streets to look like? How do we move forward while holding on to rich historic fabric? How do we maintain healthy, heterogeneous communities and public spaces as we progress?
In true Brooklyn fashion, I closed my Jane’s Walk with an invitation to join me for a round of drinks at Olympia Wine Bar, where the conversation continued long into the night.