Celebrate Jane Jacobs on walking tour of Central Avenue

Jane Jacobs, urban thinker and author, believed people should be familiar with where they live.

The late author and urban thinker Jane Jacobs tends to be pegged as a historic preservationist, an advocate who wanted to preserve her Greenwich Village neighborhood in amber. Although this great champion of cities wrote much about the importance of old buildings to a city, and as an activist fought valiantly to kill a proposed freeway through the Village, those characterizations miss the point of Jacobs’ body of work.

Jacobs believed in cities. And she believed in observing how they really work, as opposed to how theoreticians said they should work.  She considered cities and the people in them to be a part of a natural system every bit as much as the woods or parks that most people would call “nature.”

“Human beings are, of course, a part of nature, as much so as grizzly bears or bees or whales or sorghum cane. The cities of human beings are as natural, being a product of one form of nature, as are the colonies of prairie dogs or the beds of oysters,” she wrote in the final pages of her 1961 work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Explore. Notice. Treat a city as a living system, with intricacies of place, economy and culture.

That’s the essential philosophy behind the Jane Jacobs Walk movement. The Jane Jacobs Walk website puts it this way: “A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work, and play.”

So each year on the first weekend in May, the anniversary of Jacobs’ birthday, communities across the globe host neighborhood walks to help people do just that – get more familiar with their cities. In Charlotte, PlanCharlotte.org and Levine Museum of the New South have partnered to sponsor the Queen City’s first Jane Jacobs Walk: The Central Avenue Munching Tour.

Levine Museum Tom Hanchett, historian and noted chowhound-about-town, will walk participants through what he considers Charlotte’s most urban corner, Central Avenue at Rosehaven, a place where people from around the world have opened small eateries and other businesses. The tour will visit Vietnamese, Salvadoran and Somali restaurants, getting to see how small businesses help make up a larger, diversified urban economy. And of course, they’ll get to know one another, as well as eat some interesting food.

There’s no charge for the tour, but bring $10 to $20 in cash to purchase food. You must register beforehand by calling 704-687-1203 (leave a message) or email mnewsom@uncc.edu. The walk begins at noon May 5 at the parking lot of Ben Thanh restaurant, 4900 Central Ave.