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…

Scents and Spectacles

Walking is one of the best ways to explore a city, old or new. And since Vancouver is still very new to me I have a lot of exploring to do. One evening a couple of weeks ago I set out for a walk with a friend and discovered an assortment of exciting new sites, scents and spectacles.

We met at a checker board at the intersection of Ontario and 18th, which I didn’t even know existed until that evening, even though it’s only a few blocks away from my house. From there we wandered for 3 hours with no particular destination. It wasn’t too far off from an exercise in psychogeography, which was a new concept, but not a new practice, to my fellow ambler.

There were many memorable sites/sights along the way. We followed a sign in Queen Elizabeth Park that read “Small Quarry” only to find (to our disappointment) a landscaped space which didn’t look much like a quarry at all. Although I must say the view from the top of the park was stunning.

Later in the evening we discovered a “neon Virgin Mary” – back lit with two tubes of lighting that formed a halo above her head, and a passage in a hedge that led to a cemetery where it “smelled like country”. There were scents of BBQ and marshmallow in the air that evening too – but not in the cemetery.

I also learned about the array of fruit trees and other edible treats available if you look for them. Kiwi? I had no idea! I must find the kiwi tree!