CSRS 2013 Newsletter: Blame it on Jane, The City Walks & Religion in the City

Religion & The CityThis article appeared in the Fall 2013 newsletter published by UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion & Society.

Blame it on Jane Jacobs. In 1958, she wrote an article in Fortune Magazine, declaring that if you want to know about your city, “you’ve got to get out and walk.”1 She argued in favour of making street level observations about what worked and what didn’t in diverse downtowns, and insisted that regular citizens are as capable as highly trained experts at asking the right questions, making observations and choosing appropriate interventions to improve their urban environment.

I led my first Jane’s Walk in Victoria in May 2012, using a discussion based method loosely inspired by Jacobs’ article. I chose a number of sites, and posed questions to get the discussion going. I applied a similar method last year, when I led a series called The City Walks. It was a partnership with the The City Talks, a series of lectures organized by UVic’s Urban Studies Committee. In each case, the walks were well attended, the discussions were universally engaging and participants seemed to learn a lot about their cities, while contributing their own knowledge and perspectives to the discussions. Jacobs was right: regular citizens have a great contribution to make to thinking through our common future in cities.

This fall, I’m leading another series, called “The City Walks: Religion in the City.” The CSRS has partnered with The City Talks to bring four speakers from UVic and other universities to “explore the intersection of religion and the city.” The weekend after every lecture, I am leading a discussion based tour that applies some of the themes of the lecture to local issues in Victoria. Based on my reading of each speakers’ previous work, and the issues that they raise in their lecture, I chose a number of sites in Victoria that illustrate some of what they talk about. To start the discussion at each site, I pose a number of questions aimed at encouraging participants to observe and engage with their urban environment, build on their knowledge about their city, and think explicitly about how their values influence their experience of religious diversity in the city.

These walks function in two ways:

  • as educational public programming, aimed at delivering the results of academic research to the public, while encouraging participants to think about their city in new ways;
  • and as an opportunity for the public to engage with academics, leaders of faith communities, and other members of the public, over issues of how religion interacts with their city.

For the first part to work, I’ll organize the walks and ask some questions based on my experience as an academic. For the second part to work, I need you to provide “an observant eye, curiosity about people, and a willingness to walk.”2 By the time you read this, two of the walks will already have happened, but you will still have the opportunity to attend two more. They are tentatively scheduled for November 23 (invitation and outline) and December 7.3

Footnotes

1 Jane Jacobs, “Downtown is for People,” Fortune, April 1958.

2 Jane Jacobs, “Downtown is for People,” Fortune, April 1958.

3 These walks are part of a research project investigating the pedagogical utility of discussion based walking tours. Participants will be invited to provide information for this research project, and will have the opportunity to participate in later focus groups. Participation in this research project is voluntary.

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