How to share your silly little pandemic walks with the whole city

Jane's Walk is coming up soon and celebrates niche tours all over the city

How to share your silly little pandemic walks with the whole city
Hey, they're walkin' here. (Photo via the Municipal Arts Society)

Four years ago this week COVID descended upon New York, and with it came a secondary pandemic: people on the Internet screaming that New York was dead. Articles complained about the city becoming quieter or shutting down; even Jerry Seinfeld got involved. Sure, maybe some of those things rang true (it was a global pandemic after all). But for those of us who didn’t move to Miami, New York was very much alive. And for many, it took on new life via the prescribed daily COVID walk. 

Seared into my brain is a tweet from 2020 that described the daily pandemic walk as a Victorian child being taken out for fresh air. What greater place than New York to convalesce?

I had a pandemic privilege: I lived three blocks from Central Park. Depending on my level of stir crazy I’d walk through the park three to 14 times a week. It’s how I learned not to get lost in the Ramble, where to find the prettiest stretch of magnolias and how to navigate the park without a map or an app (hint: the 1600 lamp posts hold the clue). I wouldn’t have known this without the pandemic walk.

The discrete joy to be found in a pandemic walk was one of discovery in your own neighborhood. This is how my friend Meghan found out that Most Holy Trinity Cemetery, on the outskirts of Bushwick and Ridgewood, is literally the most-metal cemetery in America.

“I got really into walking and sitting and reading and eating strawberries in the Holy Trinity Cemetery," she said. She learned that the headstones were all metal, originally to destroy class distinctions.

“It blew my mind! I never would have found that spot — or the bar next door called Purgatory — without the pandemic.”

No one wants another pandemic, but those moments of discovery that came with walking your own neighborhood over and over again were a chance to know it better and better all the time- like a real New Yorker should. But here is a chance to share all those little pandemic walks with others, and discover some more walks of your own: It's the annual tradition known as Jane's Walk, and it's coming up soon.

“Most of our walk leaders aren’t people trained in education or public speaking, they’re a mix of people passionate about New York; maybe it’s the neighborhood they grew up in, maybe it’s about an unknown New Yorker they love,” said Genevieve Wagner, public programs associate at the Municipal Arts Society, which puts on the largest Jane's Walk, here in New York.

What is Jane’s Walk? 

Jane’s Walk is a volunteer-led celebration of urban life inspired by Jane Jacobs and driven by people who love their city. Jane Jacobs was a writer, urbanist, and activist who believed that people are what makes cities thrive. A noted enemy of Robert Moses (boo) (who isn’t, ) Jacobs saved Washington Square Park from being mowed down to make room for a Lower Manhattan expressway, and dedicated her life to advocating for livable, walkable neighborhoods. 

The Ethnic Eats of Astoria walk in 2023. (Photo via the Municipal Arts Society)

Following her death in 2006, a group of her friends and colleagues started Jane’s Walk that same year, to both honor her life and put her ideas into action.

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Jane’s Walk became less about typical walking tours and more a walking conversation about urban life. Jane believed cities are better when they’re, as she said, “created by everybody," and the walks reflect this idea. They’re all submission-based, volunteer-led, free, and often take creative forms. Anyone can submit a walk by the March 31 deadline. The event runs May 3 to 5.

The scope of the walks is as diverse as the city itself: last year’s walks included a public restroom tour of New York that highlighted fully automated public toilets and talked about plans to improve bathroom access in the city; a nine-minute walk that you can do anywhere as a multi-sensory and meditative experience that encouraged listeners to "embrace detour instead of destination"; and an hour-long death walk that has no talk at all, wandering silently through the stately mausoleums of the Uptown Manhattan Trinity Cemetery.

Most importantly Jane’s Walk “encourages people to share stories about their neighborhoods, discover unseen aspects of their communities, and use walking as a way to connect with their neighbors," according to its website.

What started as a handful of walks in Toronto (where Jacobs moved later in life) has blossomed into thousands of walks in more than 500 cities.

Last year, MAS had more than 175 in-person, virtual and on-demand walks, with tens of thousands attending. That’s a whole lot of New Yorkers excited to celebrate their neighborhoods. Walker explained that anyone can submit a walk, and people who submit walks come from all walks of life.

Maybe it’s even about just one street. One of her favorite walks from last year was called “41 Things About 41st Street On My 41st Birthday.

“The walk leader’s birthday was that weekend and he celebrated by walking from the East River to the Hudson River, sharing his love for 41st street the whole way," she said.

In the spirit of celebrating communities, walk leaders are encouraged to get creative.

“What’s important is that you’re led by a passion that inspires you,” Wagner said.

Though Jane’s walk was virtual for 2020 and 2021, the walk topics those years reflected a more local connection with community, and some incorporated the pandemic itself

MAS was also responsive to the pandemic;  when it adapted Jane’s Walk to be virtual in 2020, a record-breaking 25,000 New Yorkers still engaged.

“Post-2020 we saw that people were looking more to their local neighborhoods, exploring, and not really leaving their vicinity,” Wagner said. “I think that inspired people to explore their surroundings and appreciate their local spaces more." 

MAS kept these innovations: Jane’s walk today is even more accessible, and walks now range from self-guided and leader-guided to virtual; take place in all five boroughs; and find offbeat angles on their official themes (advocacy, art & architecture, environment, food & entertainment, history & culture).

So as we commemorate four years since the world shut down this week, maybe it's time to honor the pandemic walks that saved your sanity by sharing them with others?


The deadline for Jane's Walk submissions this year is March 31, so you’ve got a couple weeks to put something together. Submissions so far have included a walk of Queer Harlem that incorporates virtual reality, and a journey through Robert Oppenheimer’s time in New York.

The Rediscovering NYC Harbor by Bicycle in 2023. (Photo via Municipal Arts Society)

If you're passionate about New York, your neighborhood, or a particular street, consider sharing it through a Jane's Walk. Submission details and forms can be found on the Municipal Arts Society of New York’s website; you can check out an upcoming info session on March 26 too. I was able to lead a walk of Crown Heights last year, and will be at the info session to share more.

The actual event for Jane’s Walk happens May 3 to May 5, with the roster of walks published in early April. That will give you just enough time to browse through the hundreds of walks offered and find some new parts of the city to explore, without the global pandemic hanging over your head this time.