A group of people in Saskatoon were just a dozen among hundreds of thousands of people participating in Jane’s Walks across the world Saturday.
The free, volunteer-led walking tours are meant to honor the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs – who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to community planning throughout the ’50s and ’60s.
“Jane always believed in community involvement and walking your neighborhood, and so on, so that’s what this is all about,” former City of Saskatoon director of planning Alan Wallace said.
Wallace, an organizer and volunteer with Jane’s Walk Saskatoon, was leading a walk through River Landing as he offered history lessons about its vision and construction, and pondered what was next.
“Every city has a story to tell and inside that city are many stories,” he said. “River Landing… that started 40 years ago. There’s a long history and a long story attached to it. So what I like about Jane’s Walk is the ability to tell that story and to refresh people’s memory about how it came to be and why it’s a special place in Saskatoon.”
River Landing can trace its roots back to 1978 when renowned Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama presented a report about conservation and development surrounding the South Saskatchewan River.
That report helped establish the Meewasin Valley Authority and started to change the way people in Saskatoon thought about south downtown and the South Saskatchewan River.
“He envisaged this place as a gathering place as the one point where he wanted the downtown to meet the water. Here we are in 2022 and we’ve at least got this part done. There’s still another part to go, so there’s a real story unfolding here and there’s quite a history associated with this site,” Wallace said, staring up at Nutrien Tower.
University of Saskatchewan student Dominic Tran was eager to see what Jane’s Walk is all about.
The third-year regional and urban planning student says as passionate as he is about the industry, it chose him. After studying many of Jacobs’ works, he was taken back at the history lessons he received during his hour-long tour.
“The history of the buildings, the history of the structures and why are they there. It really broadened my perspective,” Tran said.
As an advocate for public transportation, Tran hopes to one day reshape communities like Saskatoon. But in order to do that effectively, he said he needed to walk and spend time on the streets in question.
“It really gave me a complete different look about River Landing and a complete different look about the way we should design our cities and this area,” Tran said.
Starting in Toronto, the Jane’s Walk movement has grown to include 275 cities across six continents.
So while this group was learning all about the history of River Landing, similar walking tours were happening in Tel Aviv, Seattle and Barcelona.
For this group of tourists, Saturday was proof that if you ever need to learn more about your own community, just get out and walk.