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…

On the Map Again

After nearly 2.5 years, Pedestrian City is up and running again!

The first official event happened last Thursday, October 22nd at the Toast Collective in Vancouver. It was the first step in a collaboration that’s underway with the Vancouver Public Space Network in their Green Mapping initiative. The vision is to create a series of green maps of the city based on the local spaces that matter to us.

The City of Vancouver states that “greenness” is a key to our collective identity and that we live in a green paradise. In response, the VPSN is initiating a Green Map-style inventory to help us advocate for public “green” space within the City. A Green Map can “create perspective-changing community ‘portraits’ which act as comprehensive inventories for decision-making and as practical guides for residents and tourists.”

Some more informal mapping took place last night at BarterTown, also at the Toast Collective, and will continue sporadically over the next couple of months. Check the Events page (and while you’re there, the new Green Mapping and Get Out and Walk pages!) at www.pedestriancity.ca for details of upcoming chances to contribute to this exciting project. Anyone who contributes a Green Map is also encouraged to participate in the rest of the Pedestrian City process, which involves taking pictures, sharing stories, and maybe tracing your routes through your neighbourhood in a more detailed fashion.

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!

Little Mountain

A friend showed me this site while we were out for a walk on a Monday afternoon exactly 3 months ago, but I didn’t get back there to take photos and walk through the space by myself until today. It’s only a short walk from my house but being new to the city, I had never heard of it. I was both intrigued and disappointed by what I saw.

The Little Mounting Housing Project was built in the mid-1950s and was once home to 570 people in 224 one- two and three bedroom units. It now sits mostly empty and boarded up, with only a few residents remaining. The site itself is somewhat surreal. With over 1,700 people living on the streets and in shelters in Vancouver, you’d think this would be an ideal means to provide a partial solution to the social housing problem.

Yes, I realize there are all kinds of politics at play here, but if Toronto can redevelop Regent Park into a mixed-use, mixed-income residential development, why can’t the same be done with Little Mountain? Alas, it is too late to change what is already destined to happen and the site will be cleared to make way for new development or sit vacant for some time while the public consultation process takes place.

What struck me most about this place was the fact that even though the majority of the units have been vacated and boarded up, the grounds are maintained and the lawn had been freshly mown. The buildings have also become canvasses for artists and residents, many of whom are long gone. Relocated to who knows where? However, there appear to be some inhabitants holding on to their homes for as long as they can.

As I walked through this eerie abandoned site I noticed that not all of the windows are boarded up. There are a few scattered houses with drapes and blinds in the windows instead of boards; blooming, well-maintained plants adorn some of these window sills and a couple of the balconies have signs of life. There was one place near the office where the door was open and I could clearly hear people’s voices, carrying on as if it was just another normal day in a normal Vancouver home.