Walking, Wandering, Contemplating

It’s been over a year since my last post. There hasn’t been much to report on the Pedestrian City front – apart from a very humbling Pecha Kucha experience back in September. Walk This Town: Perspectives on Designing a Healthy City was hosted at the Seattle Public Library as part of the 2013 Seattle Design Festival. I was both honoured and excited when I was asked to present, and only wish it had gone smoother.

As prepared as I was, I got up in front of a room of strangers to find out there had been a glitch uploading my presentation to the computer being used for the evening. I stuttered, I apologized, I fumbled to present my information and ideas without the accompanying visuals, which are key when doing a presentation on memory mapping.

Following that, I decided it was time to walk away for a little while and rethink what I wanted to do with Pedestrian City. I haven’t come to a decision yet. No fresh inspiration has come my way. So for now, I’m happy to let it serve as an archive of memory mapping workshops, and the initial neighbourhood study. As well as a resource for others who are interested in themes of public space, active transportation, and psychogeography. There’s a list of links and a reading list – predominantly of books that inspired the creation of Pedestrian City, with the occasional new addition.

Will I ever organize and lead another memory mapping workshop? Not likely. While I love the idea of engaging people in this capacity, I’ve learned that I don’t particularly enjoy leading the public engagement side of things myself. I enjoy the theory of the practice much more than the practice itself.

Velo City

I recently came across this post from the old Pedestrian City site. Written in December 2008, the goal at the time was to create a space for people to share personal memory maps from Toronto, New York, and cities in between…

Walking: stories, memories, reflections

I recently read a brief report about the promotion of cycling in Malmö,Sweden, for which the city organized an advertising campaign. Part of the campaign involved a competition asking citizens to submit ideas that could help increase the number of bike users; resulting in the production of a book that engaged local celebrities to share their cycling stories as a source of inspiration to residents.

The book contains a diverse mix of biking experiences, thoughts, stories, secrets, memories, commissioned essays and reflections; including a “rock star’s personal tour of the city, nostalgic biking memories, how biking satisfies a comedian’s need for speed and how cycling helped a local writer to become famous”.

Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Pedestrian City, right?

I’m hoping this will give you some ideas. I know some of you are having trouble getting started because you can’t decide on a place to focus on for the project. Instead of thinking of a place to explore first, try thinking of a story or memory and work from there.

Start with a walking story, memory or reflection, answer the questions outlined in Task #1 (a few posts down), draw your map and wait for a day suitable for a winter walk with a camera.

Another approach could be to use this as a visioning exercise, to share any ideas you might have to improve your neighbourhood of choice, no matter how idealistic they might seem!

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.

Urban Interventions

There’s been a lot of talk  lately about Urban Interventions – the Vancouver Design Nerds are planning a Nerd Jam on this topic in a couple of weeks!  There’s also an idea or two up my sleeve that I want to propose for collaboration between the Nerds, the Vancouver Public Space Network and Pedestrian City.

What are urban interventions?  They are a form of art that ranges from small, almost imperceptible transformations to large scale installations that temporarily alter a streetscape or public space.  Whether done in celebration, protest or critique, urban interventions present an opportunity to change a space, make a statement, and indirectly engage passersby to reconsider how we use public space and move through our neighbourhoods and cities.

The whimsical and unexpected can encourage social interactions between strangers, or simply bring a smile to someone’s face!  At the very least these interventions should make you consider the simpler things you may overlook regularly, awakening your perception and curiosity about the smaller details of your everyday experience.

tiny interventionsBIG interventionsInterventions of all sizes

And sometimes these things are purely coincidental!

Some of my favourite finds over the last few years:


In Defense of Walking

I came across an old project the other day – a documentation of my thought processes and the texts that led to the creation of Pedestrian City.

Excerpts from “Fragments in Psychogeography and the Spectacle of Everyday Life” – August 2006

A reflection on process:

What began as an exploration of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle and a desire to illustrate a select number of theses became a series of reflections and quotes about urban life, with several of the theses and a small collection of photos interspersed throughout.

A few ideas from Rebecca Solnit and Jane Jacobs:

There is a heightened sense of time when one is walking (or using other forms of active transportation), where things must be planned and scheduled in advance, and about the sense of place that can only be experienced on foot.  Many people live in a series of interiors (fragments) – home, car, gym, office, shops – disconnected from each other, moving between spaces in cars. Walking enables everything to stay connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors.  While walking, one lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.

Cities offer anonymity, variety, chance encounters and coincidence – qualities best experienced on foot.  A city always contains more than any inhabitant can know, and a great city always makes the unknown and the possible stimulate the imagination…

Car dependency and gentrification threaten to disperse established urban populations and/or disrupt social networks.  What is needed are efforts to reinstate a sense of community building and local social networks; decrease reliance on the automobile and make the city more walkable.  The city should be a place of unmediated encounters, not large suburbs – segregated and designed for the non-interactions of motorists moving between private places rather than the interaction of pedestrians in public ones.

If the social, political and infrastructural networks that promote active transportation are in place, public spaces will occur organically as people begin to take pleasure in the small details of the city and the spaces in-between buildings.

“We need to envisage a  new cultural project that encompasses democracy, sociability, adaptations of time, space and the body, life beyond the commodity, and the slow transformation of everyday life…Let everyday life become a work of art! How such a critical sensibility might actually be achieved has been the point of departure for a succession of twentieth-century artistic and political movements – none the more influential than the Situationist International, whose desire for the revolution of everyday life led to activities to illuminate the enfeebling mediocrity of normal life.  The Situationists believed that Only an awareness of the influences of the existing environment can encourage the critique of the present conditions of daily life, and yet it is this concern with the environment in which we live which is ignored…Spatial formation and usage are critical determinants of urban understanding.” – Iain Borden

“The street is more than just a place for movement and circulation.  The invasion of the automobile and the pressure of the automobile lobby have turned the car into a key object, parking into an obsession, traffic into a priority, harmful to social life.  The day is approaching when we will be forced to limit the rights and powers of the automobile.” – Henri Lefebvre

Photography and Psychogeography

(ideas from a variety of sources)

Photography is more than a means of exploration and documentation; it is a representation of something that is always already seen, a representation that makes one question the significance of an image, what it signifies, and why the photographer chooses to produce pictures that say something about the social world.  The photographer can be imagined as a wanderer, wandering purposefully like a hunter-gatherer with the camera a sort of basket laden with the day’s spectacles, the photographer gathers the fruits of those walks, the fruits of their psychogeographical wanderings.

This is How it All Began

Today I remembered how Pedestrian City began; who and what inspired the project. There are the obvious catalysts, Jane Jacobs, and Guy Debord and the Situationist International – Jacobs was an advocate for dense, active mixed-use neighbourhoods made for walking and socializing, and encouraged walking as a means of getting to know your neighbourhood; while Debord gave me a new way to explore with his concepts of psychogeography and the derive.  The less apparent, but probably first inspiration was Gaston Bachelard and his book, The Poetics of Space, which I am re-reading for at least the fifth time.  I like to think I dream differently when I read this book. At least I think about and experience spaces differently, more consciously and reverently.

As I wrote in the opening paragraph of Pedestrian City: A Visual Narrative of Trinity Bellwoods: “To borrow from William J. Mitchell, I need to make myself into an urbanist, a geographer, and begin “to understand how the objects, narratives, memories and spaces [of the city] are interwoven into a complex, expanding web – each fragment of which gives meaning to all of the others” . I have undertaken this task with this project; through gaining a sense of how people perceive and experience a particular neighbourhood through walking. To relate it to the phenomenological writings of Gaston Bachelard, Max van Manen, and Tony Hiss, this project begins to explore the relationships between place, space, and a sense of individuality; about how our experiences with the environment, natural and built, shape who we are and how we experience different spaces and spaces differently, which is portrayed in individual maps and photographs of the neighbourhood.”

In The Poetics of Space Bachelard explores lived-space as it relates to our daily experiences, reveries and reactions, with the earliest impressions, those formed in childhood, being the basis for how we experience space throughout the rest of our lives. It was this that I remembered while walking to Queen Elizabeth Park today, with the book in my bag and a camera in hand.

Today’s walk was reminiscent of my first conscious attempt of engaging in the act of psychogeography; an instance where I had a destination in mind but no planned route and only a vague sense of time. My pace was slow, my eyes were curious, and my camera and notebook were ready to record the objects that caught my attention and stood out from the rest of my surroundings – the things that enhanced the walk for me…