Approach

This project aims to contribute to a broader understanding and dialogue of the importance of aesthetics in public space and street design. It is important to understand what amenities are essential to the perceived walk-ability of a neighbourhood or street in order to improve the pedestrian realm, even in an area already perceived to be highly pedestrian-oriented. The only way to successfully do this is to speak to the people who already make walking a part of their everyday routine, in order to get an accurate idea of the things that matter to pedestrians.

The primary purpose was to determine the perception of everyday surroundings and the degree of familiarity people have with their neighbourhood; walking habits, including ways of walking (routes); and examining what makes this neighbourhood so successful and attractive; and what, if anything, people feel is lacking. The objectives are to increase the awareness of the importance of the pedestrian realm and encourage a dialogue amongst citizens, which may in turn lead to improvements of the streetscape.

Two approaches have been taken in this study, aesthetic and pragmatic. The aesthetic approach was paramount, with the end goal being to construct a story/narrative of walking. The thematic focus was on what people noticed while walking, which arose from the interviews, the pictures, and the cognitive maps. The pragmatic portion of the project arose from the dialogue encouraged regarding the pedestrian-scape and engaging people to begin thinking about how it can or should be improved.

  1. The interview provided a context for a mapping exercise through encouraging participants to think about the physical, social and visual environment (see Interview Questions in the Appendix).
  2. Each participant was asked to draw a cognitive map; which served as a memory exercise to gain a sense of what features are important to people in their daily routines. What features (natural, built) they notice and which they overlook.
  3. Participants were given disposable cameras and asked to photograph their walk to and from Clafouti on a given day. They were also asked to reflect on the experience of this exercise and add captions to the images of their choosing (see Photo Q & A in the Appendix). The photographs and the maps are presented as a visual narrative.
  4. Questionnaires were available in Clafouti for people who wanted to contribute to the project but didn’t have time to participate in all of the activities. The questions were the same as the interview questions and there was room to draw a small map of the neighbourhood. These accompany the visual narrative.

Rebecca Solnit writes vividly about walking as art, both as practice and study. Many artists, including the Englishman Richard Long, went on walks as a means of creating art through documenting their excursions in various mediums; while others have used other people’s experiences of walking in exhibitions, such as Stanley Brown, who asked strangers he encountered on the street to draw maps for him which he then exhibited (2000).

My work fits into this category, of walking as art, both as practice and study, as I have asked people to draw maps of a specific neighbourhood and to document, with photography, their walks into, out of, and through the same neighbourhood. Each person interviewed notices different aesthetic features while walking and has personal reasons for taking one particular route over another, which additionally may include issues of safety and accessibility.

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