My first Jane’s Walk, one of seven in Providence May 2-4, takes place this coming Saturday. It is free and open to the public. Jane’s Walk is an annual global city touring festival in which citizens volunteer to guide tours of a district or neighborhood of their city, infusing their tour with the passion of their vision for the place. My Jane’s Walk is called Waterplace: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and starts at 2:30 p.m. at the Crawford Street Bridge near Hemenway’s. The link takes you to a map and a description of the tour, which will probably last a little more than an hour.
The walking festival, now in its seventh year, is named in honor of the late Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), which almost single-handedly turned city planning away from the urban renewal model (often accurately derided as “urban removal”) of bigger is better and, to judge by the result, uglier is better, toward a reconsideration of cities as places for people to enjoy life. The book essentially recommends returning to the civic formulas prevalent before the onset of modernist planning and design in the years after World War II. That view also animates my thoughts and writing on cities, architecture and Providence, so you can imagine that Jane Jacobs is as much a guru for me as for any other Jane’s Walks tour guide.
My Jane’s Walk is labeled “Waterplace” because that’s a place name that many people know – but my walk will start at the bridge near Hemenway’s and take you up and down the rivers and through part of downtown and back to where we started. I will answer your questions about buildings along our way, the history of why they are beautiful or ugly, what impact beauty and ugliness have on Providence, and what we as citizens can do about it.
The photograph, by Richard Benjamin, encapsulates my rant about the Capital Center Project. The photo captures Waterplace Park at the height of its beauty. It was only shot 14 years ago, but in those 14 years poor civic stewardship has had sorry results. You will learn that story on this tour. It is on Saturday, May 3, at 2:30, starting at the Crawford Street Bridge near Hemenway’s.
I hope you will join us, and please be loaded for bear when thinking up questions to throw at me on our tour.