The Inside Outside Retreat Centre logo, a trail marker blaze within a circle.
Logotype for the Inside Outside Retreat Centre.

17,000 Steps

 There has been a great deal of turmoil and busy-ness in my life these past few weeks. I was craving connection to the ground beneath my feet, a good walk. My longing was for shady trails in the forest, open fields of late-summer harvest, skies without skyscrapers – but these busy days have prevented me from heading out of the city.

Jane Jacobs, in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Vintage, New York City, NY, USA, 1961) warned:

There are dangers in sentimentalizing nature. Most sentimental ideas imply, at bottom, a deep if unacknowledged disrespect.

With this thought in mind, I set out one day this week to walk my city, to challenge my bias toward the notion that a really good hike can only happen away from metropolitan streets.

I began my walk along University Avenue, a wide boulevard that cuts down through the city. Fountains, statues and “parkettes” at its centre, flanked by hospitals, embassies and corporate headquarters, it is the epitome of the urban core. I turned toward the art gallery, passing flights of students getting ready to start a new school year at the art school nearby. Stepping into the gallery I spent a couple of hours walking the halls observing people, exploring new exhibits, and enjoying familiar much-loved art.

Leaving the art gallery I strolled slowly through Grange Park. Kids playing; students resting beneath trees; dogs exploring; pigeons and squirrels sourcing food; cyclists meandering along paths; trees offering shade … it was busy and joyful and so very, very urban. Leading south out of the park there is a brick path that passes the remains of an old church. Only the tower still stands. The tower, and what was once the interior of the building are a riot of plants, giving life and beauty to its burned-out shell.

On the path, just by the remains of the ivy-covered tower, I came across this:

“We and our cities, just by virtue of being, are a legitimate part of nature.”

To come across not just a quote by Jane Jacobs – but one from the very chapter I’d been thinking of when I set out on my walk – made me laugh out loud.

By the end of the afternoon I’d been up through the market neighbourhood, along quiet residential streets, through more parks, and past busy intersections. My walk was 12 kms of connection with the place where I live. It was exactly what I needed.


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We are settlers on Treaty 13 Land, the traditional territories of many Indigenous Nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples from across Turtle Island. We are committed to honouring the history this land bears witness to, responding to the 94 Calls to Action of the  Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and walking lightly on the Earth. A portion of proceeds from all our offerings are sent to:  The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and The Nii’kinaaganaa Foundation.

The Inside Outside Retreat Centre, Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), 720 Bathurst St., Toronto, ON, M5S2R4