History + Community,  Web Exclusive

Hey Danny, I’m Walkin’ Over Here!

“My German friends all love to go for a walk and often ask me to come along. Not just for fifteen or twenty minutes, either. They’ll keep going for an hour at least, and in good weather as long as two without rest. What’s more, about forty minutes into our walk a friend will finally open his heart to me and confess, “I broke up with my girlfriend”: Without strong legs, you can’t even make friends in this country.”

Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada

It’s the first time I’ve been on the Danforth in years and there’s a cat riding a bicycle.

Correction: there’s a woman dressed as a cat, riding a bicycle on the Danforth. 

No matter where you go, the weekend before Halloween is always idyllic; here, the compact streets are tinged in orange, burgundy, and green, with autumn trees and colourful costumes. When my car carefully weaves in and out the neighbourhoods, the view outside my windshield feels like a movie scene.

Everywhere I look, I see a plethora of people going about their day. There is a group of elderly people, some sitting on a bench, some on their mobilized scooters, others standing. As they wrap up their conversation, one of them waves a goodbye and slowly drives away to their next destination. They pass by a family going in the opposite direction, the father holding one child up on his shoulders and the mother pushing the stroller with their infant inside. They talk animatedly, hands gesturing, moving to one side of the walkway to give space to everyone around them. And finally, as they walk across the intersection, the cat lady is beside me, waiting on her bike for the light to turn green too.

Rarely do I get walking envy, but the energy that I am missing by exploring the Danforth neighbourhood by car is undeniable. The walkability of a city is something I’ve been thinking about recently, with a Jane Jacobs quote that comes to mind:

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” 

Jacobs, an American-Canadian writer and activist, is known for her work on protecting neighbourhoods from “urban renewal” and “slum clearance”, terms that refer to clearing out areas, often low-income homes, for attracting higher class housing. In short, disregarding the people’s needs and instead prioritizing those of wealthy businesses. She fought against these movements, first in her home neighbourhood in New York’s Greenwich Village, then later in her new home in Toronto. Her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, where the aforementioned quote is from, is a kind of city planning bible—she gave birth to the idea of streets having “mixed primary uses,” not just being a pathway, but a place to congregate and keep in touch with one another.

A walkable community can be defined as one “where it is easy and safe to walk to goods and services (i.e., grocery stores, post offices, health clinics, etc.)” (Forsyth, 2015). They are spaces that inspire “pedestrian activity, expand transportation options, and have safe and inviting streets that serve people with different ranges of mobility.” (Forsyth, 2015).

To break that down, there are three key parts:

  1. Coherence and Efficiency: when sidewalks and streets have space and signs to help people get efficiently and effectively from Point A to Point B.
  2. Safety and Accessibility: when the consideration and protection of all travelers is prioritized, so that anyone and everyone can use the roads, bike-dedicated lanes, and crosswalks easily.
  3. Comfort and Attractiveness: when clean and well-maintained sidewalks and streets are designed for individual and community activities.

Like a checklist, my brain dings off each point that the Danforth meets: Points 1 and 2 have been in front of my eyes the whole time, from the cat lady carefully and assuredly riding off to her destination in her bike lane to the diverse group of people scootering, walking, and strolling around the streets. Point 3 is a point of envy for me, as I spot the local bookstores full to the brim with customers, with the many restaurants and their cute patios with people perched on seats like the many pigeons everywhere. Perhaps the good weather is a factor to the liveliness of the streets, but it doesn’t explain why so many choose to walk to their destinations instead of driving as I have.

In the neighbourhood that I’ve grown up in, it’s not just more convenient, but it’s also safer to use a car than to walk. The Globe and Mail has written about the intertwined role that safety and walkability play together: “Toronto’s walkability varies greatly, though, and in many parts of the city people on foot face a too-risky daily reality. Although pedestrian deaths have been cut in half in Walkability (from the 1990s to the 2000s), the number of people hit by vehicles remains stubbornly steady at around 2,200 annually.” (Moore, 2013).

Ask yourself, when was the last time your rode your bike safely and securely down the streets? Or because of how unclear the rules of roads were for bikers, did that never feel like a viable option? How did you feel when you walked on the sidewalks; cramped and flustered because there were people behind you, all in a rush? Or was it a breeze to know you could walk carefully to the side, giving the people around you the space they needed?

Whether it’s the dear Danforth, the towering Toronto, or a community that has yet to be thought of, we need to ask what a city is to us. Because a city isn’t like a store with aisles to stop by and move on. It can and should become a home, a shared space to take care of together, as Jacobs advocated for. When I envision my next trip to the Danforth, it’s on foot and it’s with my friends. I know that the walk is not as intimidating as when I’m alone. And I have a question for myself that I look forward to answering soon; what distance can we travel if we travel together?


Forsyth, A. (2015) What is a walkable place? The walkability debate in urban design. Urban Design International 20, no.4: 274-292. https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/29663388/Forsyth_walkablity_082415_final.pdf

Jacobs, J. (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Moore, O. (2013) A step toward safer streets; Inspired by innovations in Chicago and other cities, Toronto is starting to take a pedestrian-first approach to its thinking about its roads. The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/a-step-toward-safer-streets/article12428891/

Tawada, Y. (2018) Scattered All Over the Earth.

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