Walking the City

6 June 2017

According to De Certeau, walking is the key tactical ractice’. In other words, walking is the most effective tactic that allows the execution of the strategy, which in this case is understanding the city. He views walking as being conducive to opportunities for learning. The approaches of de Certeau and Benjamin are different yet they share the central theme of walking. Benjamin focuses on flanerie as being central to the urban experience.

The Fl¤neur refers to an artist whose work is meant to evoke place-bound nostalgia, memories, and uncover local history (Stevenson, 2003). Flanerie is the act of occupying urban space by strolling ffortlessly and observing the built environment. Both theorists recognize the connection between urban walking and the development of culture. They also view walking as a way of investigating social meaning in the built environment (Rotenberg and Mcdonough, 1993). Benjamin focuses on flanerie as the means to uncover history and identify the traces of emerging modernity.

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De Certeau believes that walking is essential in order to understand the utilization of space as a form of resistance to collectivism (Stevenson, 2003). He also discusses the difference between the concept ity (one that is interpreted with a map and is approached with preconceived notions) and the lived city (experienced first-hand). The concepts, shaped by the life attitudes of a particular urban setting, why things are the way they are, and why our perceptions evolve as a result of witnessing daily practices.

The ideas of these theorists are applicable to the manner in which I have experienced London as both the concept and lived city. The next group of sources pertains to French cultural theorist Michel de Certeau’s theories of occupying space and the effects that walking has on the inhabitant’s point f view. He argues that space is the product of social construction, limiting the ability of the inhabitant to manipulate space in his or her own way (Pickvance, 1976). Rotenberg, R. and Mcdonough, G. ould agree that open space does not imply occupancy, rather it is a matter of whether the space is available for the individual to use freely as opposed to being constrained to act in a prescribed way. The idea that space is significant as a site of resistance was further discussed by de Certeau. The use that urban dwellers make of space is a form of tactical resistance (Rotenberg and Mcdonough, 1993). Given that space is the product of social construction, urbanites seek to transcend limitations imposed on them by appropriating available space in their own way.

De Certeau argues that space is initially defined by the objectives of professionals and investors. Space is manipulated and restricted by their budgets and visions for the urban landscape (Frers and Meier, 2007). After official processes, space becomes redefined by the daily lives of urban dwellers and visitors. Their practices and the unique ways in which they utilize and occupy space redefine the rban environment. In de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, it is suggested that the process of using is not guided by established rules.

In an effort to defy conformity, young people routinely change the use of products to creatively express individual identities (Stevenson, 2003). Rather than arguing that emphasis on collectivism has shifted to individualism, it may be more accurate to say that there is a paradoxical focus on both conformity and individualism. This is demonstrated by consumers purchasing the same products to express their unique identity. The same oncept applies to space.

People have the desire to leave their mark in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of a city. The urban environment is the creative product of both the designers and the inhabitants (Stevenson, 2003). One’s own urban space is produced when he experiences it in his own way and through his own perspective. Each city dweller has a connection to a place through an experience that is entirely their own, regardless of the previous meaning that has been imposed by official processes such as architecture, planning, and design (Stevenson, 2003).

This is chieved by walking, which according to de Certeau is more effective than any representation in a map or pictorial form (Stevenson, 2003). He makes the distinction between the concept city and the lived city. The concept city is characterized by our preconceived notions and expectations. In contrast, the lived city is what is actually experienced and discovered upon interaction with the environment. Walking forces one to associate a memory with a particular location, giving the space meaning and contributing to a stronger emotional connection.

As users re-write and interpret the ity, they create fragmentary stories that link with other fragmentary stories, creating an overall impression of the city that is informed by personal experience (Rotenberg and Mcdonough, 1993). The lived culture of the urban street cannot be understood social practices, and other elements that cannot be replicated. Benjamin’s work is based on his meanderings in Paris and his attempts to uncover layers of meaning. He describes the city as a large archive of collective memories and creative expression.

Walter Benjamin was interested in the relationship between antiquity and modernity, bservable in architecture and the utilization of public space (Pickvance, 1976). The aim of the urban Fl¤neur, a term popularized by Benjamin in the nineteenth century, was to examine the tension induced by a time of industrialization/standardization (Rotenberg and Mcdonough, 1993). The Fl¤neur refers to artists and poets who aimed to convey history and nostalgia through their work, while flanerie is a methodology for experiencing space and investigating the origins of modernity (Stevenson, 2003).

Benjamin indicates the presence of social meaning ingrained in the layers of the built environment. He also highlights the importance of stumbling upon abandoned structures that may reveal details of the past (Stevenson, 2003). Many sources agree that walking the city is crucial to immersion because it provides an indispensable interactive experience, giving the walker autonomy to wander as opposed to only paying attention to established routes (Stevenson, 2003; Rotenberg et al. 1993; De Certeau, 1984). According to Cities and Urban Cultures, the things that we value reveal themselves in our surroundings, contributing to the development of individual identities (Stevenson, 2003). This experiential knowledge contributes to forming emotional attachments with our surroundings. Cities play a role in the formation of identities and the way various cultures are experienced. Within the spaces of the urban landscape, individual and collective identities are created (Pickvance, 1976).

In The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau claims that walking in the city is a completely different experience than viewing it from afar or “out of the citys grasp” (Bridge & Watson, 2010). He compares being lifted to a summit point to regaining one’s sense of self as a result of taking a break from the crowds below. When one returns to ground level, he is once again a participant instead of a voyeur. Looking down upon the city is similar to the concept city because one is simply viewing the sights and not understanding what life in that location entails (Bridge & Watson, 2010).

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