May 4th would have been Jane Jacobs’ birthday. The Jane’s Walks held all over the world this weekend – including the St. George Walk this Sunday at 3 p.m. – honour her memory and keep her ideas alive.

Born Jane Butzner in Scranton, Pennsylvania, she would move to New York City one year after graduating from the Scranton High School.

Her famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities was published in 1961.

She moved with her family to Toronto in 1968 and lived there until her death in 2006.

To quote from the proclamation of former Toronto Mayor David Miller, when the City proclaimed May 4, 2007 as “Jane Jacobs Day:”

“She inspired and taught the world how to understand and value our cities, almost single-handedly transforming our ideas about urban life.

Jane Jacobs was a writer, outspoken urban activist, a philosopher of everyday life and an innovator. Her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” brought into focus the premise that cities are engines of growth whose vitality stems from the variety of activities people engage in. In other books she analyzed how cities function with one another and how to live in a world of conflicting moral principles.

Jane Jacobs’ arguments were from the ground up, with in-depth observations of everyday places, teaching us about ‘eyes on the street’, life on the sidewalk and that walkable, dense, compact and diverse neighbourhoods were the hallmarks of a healthy city, where people join their creative energies.”

From the Jane’s Walk press release:

On the May 7 and 8 weekend, thousands of Canadians will take to the streets to mark the fifth annual Jane’s Walk, a series free, urban neighbourhood tours that inspire citizens to get to know their city and each other by getting out and walking. The homegrown innovation will stroll through more than 30 cities across Canada and more than 70 cities worldwide in celebration of Jane Jacobs’s birthday (May 4).

In total, more than 12,000 walkers will take part in over 500 tours led by passionate and friendly locals who want to share their inside tips on great places to walk, hang out, shop, eat and explore in their own neighbourhoods. New international Jane’s Walk partnerships this year include Sao Paulo (Brazil), Wuhan (China), Tel Aviv, (Israel), Colchester and Hereford (England), Berlin (Germany), Guadalajara (Mexico), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Carcar (Philippines).

“Jane Jacobs is the foremost urban thinker of our time,” says Jane Farrow, executive director of Jane’s Walk. “She encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work and play – believing in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighbourhoods develop.”

2011 is also the 50th anniversary of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the best-selling book that introduced Jane Jacobs’ ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail. Her community-centred vision started with the idea that local residents know best how to shape and improve their neighbourhoods. Foremost is her simple yet revolutionary idea that dense, mixed use neighborhoods are the key to the health and survival of a city. Decades later, it has become a model for generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists.

A new Jane’s Walk iPhone® app allows users across Canada to sort the walks by date, neighbourhood and location for free. This year’s tours walk the gamut with everything from the historical to the controversial:

• Explore the changing face of Edmonton’s Original Warehouse District;
• Stroll Calgary’s Chinatown, one of the city’s oldest and much loved neighbourhoods;
• Experience the University of Saskatchewan’s century-old tradition of architectural quality and hear some of the stories told in stone;
• Wander through Beacon Hill Park and learn about how this part of Victoria has been used in the past by first nations, early settlers, current residents;
• Bring your binoculars to see the birds and bees in Guelph, a walking tour about urban wildlife;
• Wheel your way from Ottawa’s Rideau Centre to the Byward Market and back as you discuss issues of mobility access in the capital city’s downtown core;
• Learn about food production in Montreal’s Villeray community and how to reduce our dependence on oil by eating local and delicious dishes;
• Discover the fascinating cultural history and award-winning murals of the West End, Winnipeg’s most diverse community;
• Walk the harbour and Water St. area of St. John’s as you discuss the historical city’s transition from a compact, walkable, habour-focused city to a widely dispersed city dependent on automobile transportation.