Walking as Public Engagement

City Organizers in Singapore and Newcastle, Australia talk about what people in their cities love about Jane's Walk

Zainab Habib, April 17, 2015

Participants in the "McRitchie -- Rainforest in the Middle of the City" walk, Singapore, 2014. Photo: Toddycats

Singapore City Organizer Mai Tatoy and Newcastle, Australia City Organizer Tim Askew recently sat down for a telephone conversation with Jane’s Walk global coordinator Nadia Halim and myself, to talk about their Jane’s Walk experiences and the opportunities and challenges they’ve had so far.

A bit of background on these two: Mai works in community engagement at a non-profit that shares the stories of everyday people in Asia doing good work, and mentors Singapore's migrant workers in her spare time. Tim works for the City of Newcastle, Australia as a Project Manager for the City Council; with the changes going on in the city, he’s very interested in hearing back from the communities he works with.

As I listened to Mai and Tim talk about how certain walks were very popular last year, I couldn’t help but think that this was because the walks were engaging people in ways they hadn’t been engaged before. Everybody wants to connect with and play a part in their surroundings, socially and physically.

There were interesting cultural accommodations that made the walks work locally. For instance, while in some, countries like Canada, people just show up for the walks, in Singapore, it made sense to create sign-up sheets as people expect to save a spot for the walks and were more inclined to show up for it if they do. Similarly, because Tim is taking on Jane’s Walk in his role as an employee of the municipal government, risk assessment is important to him, and he needs to get a sense of the size of the crowd beforehand. He is therefore planning to use an online RSVP system, which will allow people to indicate in advance that they plan to attend, but also still allow others to join at the last minute.

The conversational nature of the walks was a big draw in both cities. Mai found that even the professional tour guides she had recruited to help her were able to easily adapt to the Jane’s Walk ideals around dialogue and conversation, despite that being a shift from the way they normally worked. Tim found that Newcastle also loved the conversation element; the walk participants really wanted to talk about the city. As Tim pointed out about the popular “Revitalizing Newcastle”: “Heritage focuses are also about people’s histories, not just urban heritage and histories.”

Check out the city pages for Singapore and Newcastle to learn more about the walks they’re planning!

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