THE SIDEWALK BALLET
Queretaro Joins Jane's Walk
Photos: Aron Covaliu
QUERETARO (May 8, 2018) - For Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), journalist and urban planning theorist, the streets and their sidewalks, the main public areas of a city, were its most vital organs, because communities are strengthened in them through dialogue and coexistence.
One way to celebrate her legacy - which spans concepts such as rescuing the streets’ dynamism, the adoption of mixed-use spaces (promoting communitarian integration with homes, workplaces and stores) and preserving the old in the face of the new - is Jane's Walk, an event that takes place around the world every May 4, on the birthday of this activist who was born in the United States and then became a citizen of Canada, where she spent her last years.
Jane's Walks were born in Toronto, driven by the activist’s foundation, created after her death to spread her philosophy. In these citizen-led walks, a space is opened for reflection, the encounter with the other and the exploration of unknown places, or perhaps familiar places we thought we knew frontwards and backwards.
Graciela Carvajal López, founder of Menchaca; researcher Stefania Biondi and one of the inhabitants of the neighborhood.
Queretaro joined the global movement Jane's Walk with several walks, one of them in the neighborhood of Menchaca.
This year Queretaro was part of the more than 245 cities in 43 countries around the world where a Jane's Walk was held. Organized by Camina Querétaro and dérive LAB, local non-profit organizations, three walks were held last weekend: Awareness of the city, led by Mindfulness Querétaro; Informal commerce and racism, by ReCrear; and Discovering Menchaca, led by researcher Stefania Biondi in one of the most conflictive areas of the city.
In Jacobs’ ideology, the planning of the cities must be thought with the pedestrian as a central figure, not the automobiles. During our tour of the different Queretaro routes we joined what Jane called the sidewalk ballet, which is nothing more than that involuntary choreography in which we are involved when we walk down the street; disorderly, but harmonious and always different.
Walk. Observe. Connect.
As part of that corps de ballet, on Friday we ran as a group down Cinco de Mayo Street under a sudden downpour while we learned some of the original names of the streets through which we pass every day, which used to be inspired on the activities that were carried out there. La Calle del Placer (“Pleasure Street”, today Independencia), for example, was named like that because the El Placer bathhouse was located there; this one was family-oriented, unlike others from the time, where orgies were committed against the good customs of that time.
The sidewalk ballet also took us through the twisting streets of Menchaca, one of the most controversial areas of the city, where we had to do a few pirouettes to explore the irregular, uphill terrain of this neighborhood located 25 minutes away from the historic center.
Led by Graciela Carvajal, founder and a sort of neighborhood matriarch, and the scholar Biondi, who has conducted studies in the area since the year 2000, we learned some interesting things, like the fact that Menchaca was named after a local landowner, and that although the neighborhood was founded in 1970, it wasn’t until 21 years later that the drainage infrastructure began to be installed, thanks to the work of the Menchaca women, who dug the earth with whatever they had at hand so the drainage could pass; a job done entirely by the community and for the community.
Walking last weekend we observed and connected with other realities, appropriated the space, learned about stories and lives, and recognized ourselves in the other in an exercise of empathy brought about by the act of inhabiting, even for a few hours, a place usually inhabited by other. The final reflection is that same idea that governed the work of the author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities: it’s necessary that urban planners consider people in the first place, that they should feel comfortable, safe and protected in the spaces they inhabit.
Jane's Walk Querétaro will continue next Saturday May 12 with a Street Photography walk, led by Sandra Hernández in the neighborhood of El Tepetate. To register you can visit dérive LAB’s Facebook page; for more information about this global walking festival and the figure of Jane Jacobs check janeswalk.org.