First Steps to Walking in the Suburbs

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First Steps To
Walking In The Suburbs
First Steps To
Walking In The Suburbs
It’s easy to think of downtown streets and urban residential areas as the “natural habitat” of Jane’s Walks.
Suburban regions are often designed with cars, not pedestrians, in mind. They can be geographically distant
from the rest of the city, and difcult to reach by bike or public transit. They have a reputation, perhaps unfair,
for being boring.
But Jane’s Walks can happen anywhere! Walking in the suburbs can be a great, fun way to challenge the
dominance of the car, and to invite other residents to try walking where they might otherwise drive and to
question why there aren’t more sidewalks. Also, in many cities, the cultural rift between downtown walkers
and suburban drivers can feed into larger political divisions between regions, damaging the city’s ability to
work as a whole. Including the suburbs in your Jane’s Walk festival can be a small but meaningful way to help
bridge that divide.
Located west of Toronto, the landscape of Mississauga, ON includes wide, strip-mall-lined main roads
separating residential communities from each other. When Jess Taylor, Mississauga’s City Organizer at the
time, set out to plan a walk, the city’s sprawling layout presented a problem. “The places I wanted to highlight
or visit were too far apart. The walk would have taken about 5 hours, and would not be accessible to all people.”
“Mississauga lacks a downtown core, so there are seemingly no clear areas to promote a walk,” Taylor notes.
“However, it does have a couple of distinct neighbourhoods where people do walk and hang out—Port Credit
and Streetsville are the most obvious.”
Walk leaders stepped forward to lead walks in those neighbourhoods, but Taylor still wanted to explore the
less-obvious parts of her city. Her solution: “Be more creative with what you want to highlight on the walk.
Choose one thing (e.g., something historic, something in nature that is cool, neat architecture, etc.), and create
a walk around that.”
Taylor chose the hydro corridor, an underrated but useful green space. “I wanted residents whose backyards
backed onto it to attend the walk, so that they could meet each other and discuss the challenges and joys of
living next to a hydro corridor, so I printed out yers and did about 50 door-to-door mailbox deliveries letting
them know about the walk.” Although only one resident actually came on the walk as a result of her yering
effort, there were 8 people total, and Taylor is condent that interest in Jane’s Walk will grow in her city in
the next few years. “As more people show up to walks and as the buzz gets going, you get to connect to more
Walk Story: “Green Space Love”
Missisauga, ON, Canada
If you’re not familiar with the area you’re interested in, do a little research! Google it and
nd out if there are any famous buildings there, points of historical interest, or controversial
infrastructure projects. Figure out how to get there by transit from downtown. Grab a friend,
go out there on a Saturday afternoon, and walk around!
Specic neighborhoods may have their own Facebook groups where locals can discuss
community issues.
A local BIA or Chamber of Commerce might be a good place to contact.
Community and athletic centres often host soccer clubs, nature groups, or trail runner clubs.
Find out and get in touch. These are likely to be people who like to walk!
A major issue in many suburbs is a lack of space and resources for teens and young
adults. One walk, “A Teenage Nightmare” took a humorous look at this issue in the Calgary
suburb of Bonavista. Community centres or local municipalities may host youth drop-in
programs—contact them and nd out. You could also try reaching out to a local high school.
Dog owners are usually walkers, even if they live in car country! See if you can nd a local
dog-owners’ association. Try calling the local Humane Society and nd out if there are dog-
owners’ clubs. Find out where people walk their dogs. Is there an off-leash dog park nearby?
Look for local dog lovers who might want to lead a walk about this.
When you’re doing outreach in an area where walking and community festivals are not so
popular, remember to clearly explain what Jane’s Walk is. Many people will initially assume
it’s a fundraising or tness initiative. Connect it to the interests of the person you’re talking
to. If you call a BIA, explain that a Jane’s Walk can help locals learn more about businesses
in their community (and how to get to them on foot!). If you talk to a community association,
suggest a Jane’s Walk that looks at pedestrian safety, or offers an opportunity for neighbours
to talk about home ownership issues.
Some more great potential suburban walk topics: police presence and surveillance; movies
lmed in the suburbs; local bylaws on subjects ranging from community gardens to noise
levels; holiday decoration walks; how to deal with neighbours; hidden architectural gems;
accessibility issues; local politics; environmental issues.
In the suburbs, locals may not hang out in parks and coffee shops as much as they do in the city, but
they’re still getting together! There are lots of ways to nd out where the people are and start doing
How To Get Started