SURREY – She was an urban activist before urban activism. She dared speak her mind at a time when women were still fighting for equality, and some deemed her a "housewife" and "crazy dame" for it.
She didn’t like what she saw taking shape in the car-centric cities of 1950s and 1960s North America. She railed against it and wrote and spoke about nouveau concepts, such as mixeduse development, short blocks, the necessity of sidewalks and high-density neighbourhoods.
Her efforts ultimately had a direct impact on cities such as New York and Toronto, where planned freeways were quashed, and her 1961 book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," rocked the urban planning world.
Her name was Jane Jacobs. She died in 2006 at the age of 89, and her legacy has only grown over time.
One year after her death, the first "Jane’s Walk" was organized in Toronto, the city she called home for the final 40 years of her life. Today, there are more than 1,000 Jane’s Walks spanning 140-plus cities around the world. Eight will happen in Surrey this coming weekend (May 1 to 3).
Leading one of them will be Grant Rice, a local environmental activist and 2014 Surrey mayoral candidate. Rice, a big fan of Jacobs’ vision, will take participants on a tour of his own North Surrey neighbourhood of St. Helen’s Park, an area known for successfully down-zoning and maintaining its character in the face of change.
"The purpose is to get people engaged in their community. To talk about the assets they have in their neighbourhoods. It’s about placemaking. It’s about building community."
Rice talks as we walk through his ‘hood.
He’s an enthusiastic fight-the-power guy, and he’s quick to identify both the highs and the lows of the homes and the streets around us. Over here is a house that’s kept true to its roots. Over there is another that… hasn’t.
"I’ve recruited a woman who lives in our neighbourhood who will help us study some of the local mid-20th century architecture," he says. "Part of the walk will look at some of the in-fill development that’s occurred in our neighbourhood, the way some people have renovated homes, and others that don’t quite fit."
A section of the tour will meander through both the recently renovated Robson Park and the adjacent Robson Ravine Park. The latter in particular is simply stunning: a shockingly deep and scenic gorge surrounded by massive oldgrowth trees. This is truly one of Surrey’s most spectacular hidden gems, yet you get a chance to experience it only if you park
your car and know where to walk.
"Vancouver and New West have had sort of a Jane’s Walk contest going," Rice says. "Vancouver had 18 and New West had 16 I think, so we have a long way to go. Last time I checked, we have eight or nine, so maybe next year we can get in the race."
Rice promises a leisurely stroll of 90 minutes or so, with lots of discussion breaks. It’s absolutely free, and there’s no registration involved.
"The idea is about celebrating Jane Jacobs – a woman of action," he says. "She really had an idea what human-friendly cities were all about."
Interested parties merely show up at the Robson Park playground near the intersection of 100th Avenue and 127A Street at 1 p.m. this Saturday, May 2. For more information on any of Surrey’s Jane’s Walks, go to Janeswalk. org/canada/wwwsurreyca/.