Our Inspiration and Our Friend: Jay Walljasper
“Walking is a powerful tool to change the world as well as a fundamental human right.”
Jay Walljasper—acclaimed author, walking advocate, and urban planning expert—wrote that sentence in a story we published on Community Commons in 2015 called Walking Equity in Low-Income, Minority, and Immigrant Communities, and it has always resonated. He pointed out that “people have walked for justice and economic opportunity throughout American history...yet poor conditions for walking among low-income households, people of color, and some immigrant communities limit their access to jobs and education.”
In a year that saw much human suffering, civil strife, and the harsh realities of inequity—as well as the loss of our friend Jay—those words still ring true.
There was more to Jay than walking, however. Jay was a dedicated writer and supporter of community-change work. He believed in telling community stories as a powerful tool to move the world forward and inspired others to take action. The former Minneapolis Mayor and a friend of Jay, R.T. Ryback wrote a tribute that points out Jay’s love of cities and what they stood for. He states “For him it never was about the place but, instead, about how people animate the place. It was about finding what he called ‘the commons’, those magic parts of cities where we all belong. The places that we find that we all share, that none of us has in isolation.” This points out just how much Jay really understood what was fundamental to helping people thrive.
Monte Roulier, President of Community Initiatives, also expressed Jay's impact on those around him. “Jay’s writings about the Commons – all that we create and share together—are profoundly persuasive. But his greatest legacy is how he showed us to fully experience the commons: he had curiosity about every city, town or village he visited; he found the dignity and the animating story in every person he met; he lived in the present; he gave freely of himself to others; he was resourceful and took risks with aplomb and steadiness of near; he made time to relish trails, lakes and rivers; and he helped us identity and prize what we held in common.”
Below are the stories Jay freely gave to Community Commons so that we could match them with community data and put it all in context to help cities make the case for improvements to walking and active transportation access. We are forever grateful for his generosity and his words of hope.