Looking Around: Urban Literacy

By Katherine Pioli

Jane’s Walk.

by Katherine Pioli

On May second a group of people will gather downtown on Pierpont Ave. They will have on their comfortable walking shoes. Together they will move through the streets of Salt Lake City’s warehouse district looking at art spaces, housing units and community shops. It will not be a protest group or a gaggle of developers. It could be you or your neigh­bor who, along with other community members, will be engaged in an activity of urban literacy-asking questions, making observations and telling stories. This group will be participating in a project called Jane’s Walk.

The project takes its name from Jane Jacobs, an extraordinary woman who was instrumental in developing the modern approach towards urban planning. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1916, she moved to New York City during the depression years, and circulated through a series of jobs and periods of unemployment. Jane later found success as a writer for various publications including the New York Herald Tribune and Vogue. Her legacy, however, comes from her work and ideas in city and urban planning, subjects which she never studied but for which she had an natural sensitivity. Her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961) is believed by many to be the most important work on urban planning of the 20th century. She is the first to use such terms as “mixed-use” development, the idea that urban environments and neigh­borhoods should provide space for a variety of activities, from art space to offices to living quarters.

This is exactly the type of space represented by the warehouse district of Salt Lake City. Our city’s Jane Walk will begin in an area that has been a focal point of change since 1980, Artspace. When a group of artists needed affordable housing and workspace this street set in motion a transformation from industrial zone to mixed-use neighborhood. The 81,000 square foot building converted into 19 living spaces and 35 studios, commercial space and a large garden. Since then the space has continued to grow and be reinvented. The tour will continue past other warehouse spaces, affordable housing units, parks and shelters, concluding at Squatters Brewpub for an unofficial post-tour conversation.

The guide for this Jane’s Walk will be Stephen Goldsmith, director for the Center for the Living City, the group that organizes Jane’s Walk. Gold­smith has a unique perspective on the warehouse district as a founder and former president of Artspace. He has also served as planning director for the Salt Lake City Planning Division, which focused on historic landmarks, zoning and long range planning.

The May 2 tour is the only definitively planned tour at this point but more tours may coalesce over the summer. Whether or not this happens depends on the involvement of community members. Additional tours will rely on the initiative of residents, including you. Do you live in the 9th & 9th neighborhood or the Marmalade district? Have you always wanted to know the story behind your neighbor’s front door stain glass window? Chances are that they know the story, passed on from the previous or original owners.

The Jane’s Walk USA website gives helpful suggestions for organizing tours. Map your route and keep it within one or two miles. Think about the area’s landmarks, people and events that would create interesting conversation, but remember that this is not a lecture. Participation and communication from the entire group is central to the idea of the Jane’s Walk.

“These walks provide an opportunity to discuss the conditions within our communities that function well and those that do not function at all; to discuss ways in which to improve our cities for our mutually agreed upon collective futures and the means by which to execute these changes through bottom-up approaches and community involvement,” according to the Center for the Living City.

-Katherine Pioli

Warehouse District Tour, May 2
Details: Gather at Higher Ground Learning, 325 W. Pierpont Ave., 1pm.
Registration: Stephen@CenterForTheLivingCity.org

Create your own Jane’s Walk: Go to www.JanesWalkUSA.org. Use “Tips for Tour Guides” to help design your walk. Then register your walk by clicking on the “Create Your Own Walk” link. Just for fun, check out other walks taking place in Spanish Harlem (NY), Anchorage and elsewhere around the globe.


This article was originally published on March 30, 2009.