Looking at Groningen through Jane Jacobs' eyes

The first Jane's Walk in this city in the Netherlands got residents talking about city making

Lior Steinberg, March 24, 2015

On a chilly Saturday morning in November, more than 50 people gathered in Groningen to discuss ways to make cities better. Most of them weren’t architects or urban planners, but regular people who just wanted to know more about city making. The occasion was the first ever Jane’s Walk in Groningen, organized as part of the Let’s Gro festival.

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I led the walk and presented some of Jacob’s ideas. She wrote her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities in the early 1960s, when urban planners all over the world were sure that building more roads and highways would make cities flourish. Living in New York City, Jacobs knew that more cars could not be the solution. Despite  not having any education in the fieldof urban planning, she described the wonders of daily street life and hit a nerve among the city’s residents.  

In Groningen, over half a century after Jacob’s classic was published, we walked through the city centre and looked for the four conditions she claimed were needed to make a neighbourhood better: a mix of functions, short blocks, buildings in different conditions, and sufficient density. From the vibrant Oude Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat, through the cozy Hortusbuurt and on to the reviving Boterdiep, we observed everything around us and searched for the strengths and weaknesses of Groningen.

When I first presented the idea of a Jane’s Walk in the city, some asked how it could contribute in the long run. In my opinion, residents should have more knowledge about city making. Even when decision makers have good intentions, they cannot possibly grasp all the residents’ desires. By giving locals some insights into urban planning, we can expect them to participate more in the decision making process in their city.

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On May 1st, 2nd and 3rd hundreds of cities will be celebrating Jane’s Walk 2015. Groningen will be one of them, and the plan is to have more walks, more participants and more topics.

Do you live in Groningen? Want to lead a walk about cafés, gardens, display windows, or any other topic?  Please contact me

Want to lead a Jane’s Walk in another city, anywhere in the world? Find your City Organizer here. If there’s no organizer in your city yet, why not bring Jane’s Walks to your city yourself? Contact the Project Office to find out how.

Photos by Fokke de Jong.

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