Natalie de Roiste wants Dubliners to tell their stories of the city, and share them with others by giving walking tours the first weekend of May.
It’ll be part of Jane’s Walk, a global festival scheduled for 5, 6, and 7 May. Started in Canada, the annual event honours urban activist Jane Jacobs.
“The idea of the walks is that anyone who wants to can give a walking tour on any topic, that is to do with their city,” she says.
Craftsmen, commuters, older people, young people, protestors, tour guides, TidyTowns organisers, street musicians and anyone else with a story to tell is invited to lead a walk.
“If you were a bricklayer you could do one on the buildings you had worked on and your favourite brick buildings in the city,” she says.
“People who were involved in protests in the ’60s or ’70s could give a great tour, and Jane Jacobs was a protestor,” she suggests.
De Roiste reflects that we do not often hear stories of the city from the perspectives of teenagers, so that would be interesting.
Who Was Jane Jacobs?
“If you had asked me 20 years ago, I’d have said she was a town planner, but she wasn’t actually, she was a protestor,” says De Roiste of Jacobs, who lived in New York in the 1960s.
In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs wrote that: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
At the time, the prevailing wisdom within city planning around the world was to widen roads and build highways through cities, says De Roiste. “There are some cities in the US where everything looks like the Long Mile Road, and they don’t even have a town centre,” she says.
When there was a plan to run a highway through her neighbourhood, Jacobs organised others to fight it – and they won. A documentary about this conflict, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, will be screened in the IFI the weekend of the walk, starting 5 May.
Green Party Councillor Ciaran Cuffe, who organised the walks in Dublin last year, calls Jacobs “an amazing woman who raged against the machine, which was transport engineers, who felt the city could be altered to suit the needs of the automobile”.
Jacobs argued throughout her life that city planners should bend to what the community needed and not the other way around.
“She was so ahead of her time it was remarkable,” says Cuffe. “She was talking about children in the city, the pedestrian and the importance of cities on a human scale in the 1960s.”
Jacobs left New York and moved to Toronto in 1968, where she continued her urban activism.
She died in 2006, and her friends in Toronto started Jane’s Walk to commemorate her and keep her ideas alive. In 2016, more than 1,000 Jane’s Walks took place in 212 cities.
Giving a Tour
Anybody who wants to offer a tour can simply post it on the Jane’s Walk website, says De Roiste. And attendees don’t need to sign up: they can just pick a tour and go.
Last year, Cuffe took a group on a walk in the north inner city. He started at the Spire, went up Moore Street and finished in Smithfield. He plans to run the same tour again this year.
“It’s a combination of Dublin old and new,” Cuffe says. “It was about the buildings, the history the changing life of the city, and the controversial development of Moore Street was at the heart of it.”
De Roiste is planning on doing “an insider’s guide to town planning”, explaining how the town-planning system works by looking at one street, Earlsfort Terrace.
If you’re planning a tour, health and safety should be your most important consideration, says Pat Liddy, a historian and professional tour guide.
“Be constantly aware of safety, and not blocking footpaths and keeping everybody off the road,” he said.
Make sure you address yourself to your group, he said. Ask them to stand around you in a semi-circle, and check with them to make sure they can hear you.
“Nobody is looking for lots of knowledge, they are looking for engagement and a bit of light entertainment as well as the facts,” he says.