Six years ago, David Crummey didn’t know Mesa existed.
“I moved to Arizona in seventh grade, and my knowledge of the Valley ended at Scottsdale Road,” says the 30-year-old. “Anything east of that wasn’t on my radar.”
But now, three years after buying a home near the city’s downtown, Crummey will lead Mesa’s first Jane’s Walk on May 7.
Part discovery expedition, history tour and strolling neighborhood mixer, the event is one of dozens of annual Jane’s Walks taking place across the globe. They give residents a chance to get to know their neighborhoods on foot (instead of from behind the wheel) and through the knowledge, memories and perspectives of other walkers.
“They’re really about creating community. I want people to walk away knowing their neighborhood a little better and maybe meeting some people who live nearby. We’re so spread out and so busy living our lives, that we never make time to connect with each other,” says Yuri Artibise, a policy analyst and blogger who first brought Jane’s Walks to Phoenix in 2009.
His 2010 stroll through Phoenix’s Warehouse District drew about 100 people.
The walks have been held internationally since 2007 in honor of the late Jane Jacobs, a writer and activist whose 1961 book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” heralded concepts such as walkable neighborhoods, the creative re-use of old buildings and mixed-use development, and has become the “bible” of urban planning for generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists.
Mesa’s first Jane’s Walk is expected to last about two hours and cover 2 miles.
“We’ll walk through the Second Avenue and Second Street residential areas, and we’ll be walking down Main Street, which is lined with businesses. It’s not so much a walking tour as it is a walking conversation,” says Crummey. “It’s really about people bringing their stories and sharing.”
Crummey stumbled upon Mesa when he took a job in an elementary school near downtown.
“I would walk for lunch in downtown Mesa or just go driving around and think, ‘This place is amazing. It’s just breathing potential,’” he says. “When I came in, I knew nothing. But I bought my house just west of downtown, because I believe in downtown. What amazes me about Mesa is how much community there is. Anytime I ask someone about anything, they’ll say, ‘Well, you need to talk to so-and-so,’ and then that person will say, ‘Yes, but have you talked to this person?’ and it just goes from there.”
Artibise says that undercurrent of community can be difficult to plug into in the Valley, given that so many people who live here are from someplace else.
“It’s a tough city to figure out at the beginning. There doesn’t seem to be much going on at the surface. There are things going on, but you have to look beyond the Walmart and Walgreen’s on every corner to find them.”
He says Jane’s Walks can help get people past that barrier, especially when walkers begin sharing local lore.
“I’ve heard stories about buildings and things that happened in a town that I never would have known otherwise. It’s the stories that really begin to tie you to a place. When you move here from somewhere else, you don’t have a connection because you don’t have any of those memories, personal or collective. But by sharing them, you begin to get some of that.”
The walks, organized with the help of the Jane’s Walk USA team, can be led by anyone in any community.
“We were trying to get one going in downtown Chandler and Gilbert as well. It just takes someone being willing to do it,” says Crummey.
“I might not be the best person to do this tour, but I’m going for it because I think it’s important that we come together to keep our neighborhoods going, and we have to build the community we want to see.”
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