Across the Board: Celebrating Urban Activism and Activity

Across the Board is a monthly column authored by members of Freedom Park Conservancy’s Board of Directors. This month’s post was written by Naka Nathaniel.

It’s not out of the ordinary for ancient Rome to be credited for great urban ideas. Contemporary Rome? Not so much. However, Atlanta was the beneficiary of an idea inspired by a modern-day Roman: Jane’s Walk.

For a year, the Freedom Park Conservancy prepared to become our city’s inaugural host for Jane’s Walk. Jane’s Walk is an annual celebration of free, citizen-led walking conversations inspired by Jane Jacobs. On the first weekend of May every year, Jane’s Walk festivals take place in hundreds of cities around the world.

I’m proud to say Atlanta’s first Jane’s Walk weekend was a tremendous success.

Kelly Jordan and Don Bender led a Jane’s Walk discussing the past forty years of revitalization in Little Five Points. Photo by Terry Kearns.

The idea first came to our board member Nancy Boyd, when a friend called to wish her happy birthday from Rome. Her friend had to end the call so he could attend a Jane’s Walk. Nancy had never heard of the event, but she knew she wanted to bring it to Atlanta.

Fortunately, Harriet Lane, the president of the FPC board, has a very well-earned reputation for leading great urban hikes. It was a natural pairing of urban activism and urban activity.

Jane Jacobs inspired the walks, but her story isn’t well-known in Atlanta. Luckily, Matt Tyrnauer recently directed an incredible documentary about Jacobs called “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.” The Carter Presidential Library and Museum hosted the film and Matt was interviewed by CNN’s Lisa Respers France after the screening. It was wonderful to see Georgians inspired by her story and the parallels to the fight to create Freedom Park.

Over 100 people attended a free screening of Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.

Matt and Harriet were also interviewed by Lois Reitzes for WABE’s City Lights program. “Citizen Jane” can also be seen on many streaming services, but it was tough to beat watching in a crowd of like-minded citizens.

FPC conducted several workshops to train citizens on how to lead the walks. Twenty three walks were  held across Atlanta through not only through Freedom Park, but Oakland Cemetery, Little Five Points and the Olmsted Linear Parks.

My favorite was the hike I did with Cub Scout Pack 586. Many of the scouts are students at Mary Lin Elementary which was supposed to have an interstate highway next to school. Thankfully for the students, there’s a bird and butterfly garden next to the school instead of six-lanes of traffic.

The Cub Scouts hiked through the park collecting more than a 150 pieces of trash before reaching the Farmer’s Market at the Carter Center where they celebrated their hike and their helpfulness with popsicles.

Next year’s Jane’s Walk will be May 1-3, 2020. The FPC hopes you’ll be able to join a walk next year, or even better lead one! If you’re interested in helping sponsor this event next year, please contact our Executive Director, Laura Hennighausen, at laura@freedompark.org.