Walking through the Infinite City

I’ve recently begun to read Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City, a collection that maps the city of San Francisco based on a number of themes that have played a significant role in shaping the cultural and political movements that are synonymous with the city. Part geographical exploration, part cultural study, part history lesson, this unconventional atlas takes the reader through a journey of a multitude of experiences in and perceptions of the city. Through these meanderings, the reader is invited to wander/wonder about their own city, places they’ve lived, played, travelled.

While I’m still at the beginning and admittedly, the first theme didn’t hold my attention, the introduction was quite captivating.  Rather than summarize, I’m highlighting two passages that drew me in and made me once again consider all of the places I’ve wandered…

[A city has thousands of] inhabitants, more or less, and each of them possesses his or her own map of the place, a world of amities, amours, transit routes, resources, and perils, radiating out from home. [A city contains thousands of] living maps, because each [citizen] contains multiple maps: areas of knowledge, rumours, fears, friendships, remembered histories and facts, alternate versions, desires, the maps of everyday activity versus the map of occasional discovery, the past versus the present, the map of this place in relation to others that could be confined to a few neighbourhoods or could include multiple continents of ancestral origin, immigration routes and lost homelands, social ties, or cultural work.

And this one, which set me to dreaming of the neighbourhoods I lived in as a child…

[No] two people live in the same city. Your current surroundings exist in relation to your other places, your formative place and whatever place shaped your ethnic heritage and education, in relation to your role in this current place… If you pay attention to the neighbours, you find other worlds within them, and other neighbourhoods magnify this effect. Most of us settle into familiar routines in which we see the same places and people…in the city, but it takes very little…to land in some unfamiliar city, to find that the place is inexhaustible.

Memory Mapping Toolkit

Coming soon from Pedestrian City… a comprehensive toolkit designed to help educators conduct memory mapping sessions in the classroom.
  1. An introduction to memory mapping as a learning tool, including a list of suggested applications
  2. Detailed instructions to develop a memory mapping workshop
  3. Outlines for workshop styles
    • a basic mapping exercise to create both individual & group maps
    • option 1: walkabout
    • option 2: photographs and visioning
  4. Case Studies
  5. Resources

If you’re interested in using this as a resource, or know someone who might, please email me at natalie[at]pedestriancity.ca

A unique example of downtown revitalization in Japan

I want to share one of the most inspiring moments from this year’s Walk 21 conference.  This morning there was a presentation given by a former professor who is now a university student.  He and his fellow researchers are all in their 60s, and their submission won a contest for a downtown revitalization project.

It involves subsidizing seniors to open and operate their own part-time businesses in the downtown core.  A truly unique and innovative idea, there is a lot of support for this within the community. As baby-boomers around the world reach retirement age, and are generally living longer, healthier, more active lives than previous generations, this is something more cities and countries may want to consider.

Communities everywhere need to plan and design for seniors, both in terms of mobility and amenities.  As I’ve mentioned before, if cities are accessible by seniors and children, they’re accessible by all.   As demographics shift and an unprecedented proportion of the global population reaches retirement age, there is more demand by seniors to live centrally,  where they have easy access to transit, amenities and community.  So let’s also provide tools and support for them to remain active and engaged in our communities!

Memory Mapping Everyday Life

I was recently asked to write an article for Social Practices Art Network, created by artist, researcher, and creative director of Portable City Projects, Jules Rochielle.  The site serves as a resource for individuals, organizations, community groups and institutions that are interested in “new genre art forms” and practices.  The site currently features a few other Canadian artists, including an interview with Justin Langlois of Broken City Lab in Windsor ON.

Let your mind wander. Close your eyes and trace your routes through the city. Which streets, paths and laneways do you travel most often? What’s your favourite street to walk along, park to pause in, row of houses to walk past? Which landmarks do you identify first?

Rooted in the theories and practices of Guy Debord, Gaston Bachelard, Kevin Lynch and Jane Jacobs, Pedestrian City encourages the exploration of a neighbourhood or city through memory. It engages participants with elements of psychogeography, reflexivity, reverie and story-telling, evoking a sense of nostalgia and collective memory by representing routes through the city on hand-drawn maps, otherwise known as memory maps.

Memory maps enable us to revisit and represent experiences and impressions of our cities. They invite us to contribute to the collective memory of neighbourhoods, contextualizing them through the exploration of spatial memories and associations. The maps are a tool to make connections between the places we go and interactions we experience while walking. They show the relationship between everyday experience and how we choose our routes through the city, helping to connect the things we’ve noticed but maybe never put together in the same mental space.

The beginnings of Pedestrian City took a meandering path that included studying concepts and practices of urban planning, gentrification, public space and pedestrianism. The project initially highlighted an investigation that brought together several individual experiences of walking in the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood in Toronto, in the context of everyday life and routine, and what works and doesn’t work for pedestrians in an urban setting.

Outside of studying a particular neighbourhood, the broader aim of the project was, and continues to be, to introduce people to the concept and practice of psychogeography – to guide them to move through the city with a heightened awareness of how the environment affects them; their chosen paths, moods, the evocation of memories and feelings of nostalgia – all while offering an opportunity to examine a specific neighbourhood or issue through a more critical lens.

Since moving to Vancouver in May 2009, Pedestrian City has expanded as a practice, engaging participants in a number of memory mapping exercises. A preliminary green mapping project was undertaken with the Vancouver Public Space Network, a short lecture was presented at VIVO Media Arts Centre during the Olympics, and a psychogeographic Jane’s Walk took place in Cambie Village in 2010.

More recently, I have been engaged in dialogue with a local teacher about introducing Pedestrian City to high school students as an element of their sustainability curriculum, and participated in the student organized Plan-It Earth Youth Forum in April 2011. In collaboration with HASTE, I spent two days in June leading grade 5 students in a memory mapping exercise and critical discussion about their routes to school. I also presented a memory mapping workshop at Sustainable Cities, as part of the training sessions for their Youth-Led Development interns.