I first heard about Jane Jacobs in high school when I read her seminal book on urban renewal, The Life and Death of Great American Cities http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_and_Life_of_Great_American_Cities. My hometown of Detroit was profiled as one of the worst offenders in destroying livable neighborhoods with bad urban planning. I wrote my senior thesis on Jacobs and my fears for my beloved hometown and when I got to college I supported the work of the legendary community activist Saul Alinsky in fighting the destruction of Wayne State University’s surrounding neighborhoods.
I recently learned from a friend that followers of Jane Jacobs have now organized international “walks” in her honor through vibrant urban neighborhoods http://www.janejacobswalk.org/. In Detroit, there were three Jane Jacobs walks scheduled the weekend of May 4-5th, one of them in the historic Cass Corridor, one of the areas threatened back in my college days with urban renewal http://preservationdetroit.org/2013/03/19/janes-walk-detroit-cass-corridor-sunday-55-noon/. It was not the first time I had returned to the Wayne State University campus recently, but it was the first time I had returned to the Cass Corridor area covered in the walk. During my stormy college years, these blocks included the staging area for groups opposed to the Vietnam War, as well as many of the artists. Most of the original buildings date back to Detroit’s early days and have been restored to their former elegance. Some newer structures blend in and old apartment houses are being converted into trendy condos. New restaurants and shops are opening up throughout the area. I was especially thrilled to learn about the Green Garage, a non-profit that is an incubator for green businesses.
The tour was led by historians Armando Delicato and Elias Khalil, who wrote Detroit’s Cass Corridor, a history of the area, and they are now in the process of opening the Cass Corridor Museum http://www.casscorridormuseum.org. Jane’s Walks are an annual event the first week in May, in celebration of Jane Jacobs’ birthday (regrettably she died in 2006). I hope anyone unfamiliar with the legacy of urban activist Jane Jacobs will take a moment to learn about her impact on vibrant city planning and then find – or start — a walk to celebrate what’s great in your community.