“Las ciudades son libros que se leen con los pies”. Walking helps you read a city like a book. Last weekend I participated in the first edition of Jane’s Walk Sevilla. It was part of an international celebration of city walks that typically take place from May 2nd to May 4th every year. The walking tours inspired by Jane Jacobs are usually led and organized by local people, which explore their cities and connect their neighbours.
Community walks are an effective way to know the environment. Some time ago we visited a community garden in the historical district of Seville, as well as a grass-root initiative that combines experiences of citizen mobilization, a bank of time, and a social currency. This is a way to detect emergent practices and to directly observe processes of participation, contributing to a better knowledge on the context where social innovation arises. Later we organized study visits to a marginalized area of the city or similarly to an organization that works with people with disabilities. In this case, Master students of Social Psychology had the opportunity to know best practices of community intervention and to interact with their protagonists. This is a kind of dialogue between theory and practice.
With Jane’s Walk Sevilla I visited first emergent spaces, co-working and do-it-yourself experiences, as well as artistic and craft initiatives. Second, I participated in a bike tour through the main milestones of the industrial heritage in the city downtown. One of the characteristics of these walks is that local people participate in thematic visits, also under the guide of neighbours. City tours are expected to correspond to proposals that emerge from the bottom up, and finally reflect the view of participant neighbours.
Jane Jacobs defended getting back the city to the residents, and in this sense she encouraged designing liveable urban spaces, adapted to city-dwellers. Jane’s Walks are arranged so as to reproduce four of the components that, according to research in community psychology, promote a sense of community:
- Leadership. City walks are not guided by experts, nor they are professional tourist tours. Local people communicate their view of the city, sharing experiential knowledge, community experiences and spaces, as well as grassroots efforts to support neighbourhoods.
- Behaviour settings. Participants select places that are relevant for the community. Walks transit through locations where the interaction between neighbours occurs, which have a symbolic value or where important community activities take place.
- Shared narratives. Through city walks, people share stories, and local (non-official) discourses emerge. Affective meanings of spaces for individuals are pooled, and therefore provide an opportunity for deploying shared emotional connection and place attachment.
- Social networks. Attending community walks, inhabitants of the city have the opportunity to network with neighbours. People with similar interests meet.
The legacy of Jane Jacobs consists of understanding that neighbour lives conform the cities. Corners, more than the mere confluence of streets, are the intersection between different dwellers paths and activities. Walking cities and widespread use of bicycles are ways to do space more liveable. Las ciudades se leen con los pies. Going on foot (or pedal) is one of the best ways of knowing and experiencing the city.