Those who participated in Akron’s first Jane’s Walk on Friday learned about the parts of the city that people don’t necessarily think about — like bridges and drainage.
“Infrastructure is one of the things a city needs,” said Christine Jonke, an engineer with the city of Akron and a co-leader of the walk through downtown Akron, as the walk started at Cascade Plaza. “Why do we do what it is we do?”
“Half of our infrastructure is underground,” Jonke continued. “If you don’t notice it, I’m doing my job.”
The walk was one of four Jane’s Walks held Friday in Akron and 15 planned in the city through Sunday, with an extra walk added at the last minute.
Jane’s Walk was started in 2007 by friends and colleagues of American-Canadian author Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) to celebrate the writer and urban activist’s life and ideas. The walks allow people to learn about where they live or work, connect with other residents and get some exercise.
In Akron, the walks will touch on a variety of topics, including dance, art and history.
“There’s going to be a theme for everybody’s interest,” said Phyllis Jividen, coordinator of the Jane’s Walks in Akron.
About 40 people attended the downtown walk at noon Friday, which started at Cascade Plaza, currently being renovated to feature more green space, and wound through downtown on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and back to the heart of downtown. The walkers included several city employees, downtown workers and one man walking with his bike and dog.
The first stop of the walk was at Lock 4, which Jonke explained was once a parking garage that was removed to help tie the towpath together and expose as much of the canal as possible. She also explained that the section of Bowery Street by the lock is a bridge to traverse the canal, which “most people don’t know.”
The walkers next went down the steps to see the canal behind the Civic Theatre, which includes a small waterfall.
“I did not know this was down here,” one walker said. “I only grew up in Akron.”
The group then continued along the towpath, with the walk leaders educating participants about the bridges along the path and over state Route 59, also known as the Akron Innerbelt.
Renee Whittenberger, an engineer with MS Consultants in Akron and the other walk leader, explained that a new metal bridge that takes the towpath over the Innerbelt was built elsewhere and brought to the site to be assembled.
Whittenberger pointed out brown spots on the towpath’s asphalt. She said the spots are caused by lead in the asphalt that changes color when water drains over it. She said someone walking the path can see the drainage path by examining the spots.
“So, now you know,” she said.
“Drainage — it’s important,” Jonke added.
Whittenberger pointed to another bridge that was built for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad System in the 1920s and now carries the scenic railroad. She said the rust on the bridge isn’t a big deal and that it looks good and has no holes in it.
At the end of the walk, Jonke told the participants she hoped they enjoyed the experience and that they will now “take a closer look at infrastructure.”
The walkers said they learned new things.
Tim Fitzwater Jr., a photographer who lives in Cuyahoga Falls and took pictures during the walk, said he didn’t realize Lock 4 was formerly a parking deck.
“It was very interesting,” he said.
Several walkers plan to participate in other Jane’s Walks in Akron. That includes Freddy Witchy of Akron who brought his bike and his dog, Panhead, on the walk. He also wants to do the walks in Portage Lakes, Firestone Park and South Akron.
Fitzwater hopes to go on four or five walks and wishes he could do more. Some of the walks, though, will happen simultaneously.
“No one can pull off all of them,” he said.