Monday, 6 April 2009

Walking the Walk in Hamilton: Making Streets Safe by Being on Them

Saturday afternoon at Hamilton’s GritLit Festival, I had the pleasure of talking about cities with Linda Goyette from Edmonton, and John Leroux of Fredericton on a panel moderated by Dave Kuruc.

Each brought an individual reflection on cities. where the vast majority of people in the world live today. All three of us out-of-towners had made sure to walk around Hamilton before hand to see what it is like these days, and we tried to bring our points-of-view into the local context.

Walking, we agreed, is extremely important to making our cities more livable, but our enthusiasm for walkability drew a few comments. The strongest came from a young woman who has recently moved to Toronto, who loves it, but who has a friend, also recently arrived from a Prairie town, who is afraid to venture outside the door. Cities are dangerous, the friend insists. "What do I tell her?"

Our response was rapid: the idea that cities are dangerous simply isn’t true. Crime rates in Canadian cities are lower than in rural areas, while in general walking down a busy street is a good guarantee you won’t be mugged—too much visibility for the crime.

After we’d done our spiel an elderly, blind woman who has lived in Hamilton since 1946 recounted how she walks regularly down a stretch of James Street, reputed to be rather down at the heel. When her friends warn her how dangerous might be “I tell them that when I walk there are always a lot of older Portuguese gentlemen out and about, and I know they wouldn’t allow someone like me to be harmed.”

Indeed. Jane Jacobs’ eyes on the street working very well.


kirbycairo said...

Hi Mary
I enjoy your blog and what you have to say about these issues. I was wondering if you have ever looked at the strange but interesting things that the Situationists wrote about the city? There have been a couple of interesting books on the subject. Different angle from your but their Surrealist attitude deserves attention I think.
Peace to you

Mary Soderstrom said...

Don't knokw the Situationists at all. Will look into them.