#walkingwomen: loitering with intent

Update, April 2017: Step by Step 5 (series), building on the #walkingwomen project, took place on 24 April, while the LADA Study Room Guide was launched on 25 April and is available for download (contents: schedule of events, directory of artists, list of titles in the Walking Library for Women Walking and a list of titles in the LADA bibliotheque)…Geoff Nicholson on walking with women walkersRhythms of fearCharlotte Mathieson on walking in Villette

#walkingwomen are everywhere this summer, with events in London, Edinburgh and Manchester, plus the media fluff around Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse. As a woman who walks, what’s in it for me?

Walking Women: Somerset House and Forest Fringe

Walking Women (The Standard) took place as part of Somerset House’s utopia season from 11-17 July, curated by Amy Sharrocks and Clare Qualmann in collaboration with Dee Heddon. Over 40 walking artists were present, with events including a Wikipedia edit-a-thon (based on the rhizomatic Art+Feminism model; Amy Sharrocks, Simone Kenyon), films, pecha kucha, a Walking Reading Group utopia walk and a new walking library walked along the suffragettes’ marching route (report). Three pre-event podcasts from Jo Norcup/Geography Workshop’s ‘Er Outdoors project (one | two & three) on Resonance FM, plus recordings from the event.

Walking Women in Embra (WAN), on 11 August was curated by the same team and organised by Deveron Arts/the Walking Institute, part of Forest Fringe (“unusual events and experimental performance in Edinburgh and beyond” since 2007). More of the same, with Scottish contributions including Jeni Cumming (Edinburgh Walking Workshop) and Invisible Edinburgh leading a Powerful women of Edinburgh walking tour, plus Deveron Arts’ Claudia Zeiske on women walking in wild landscapes. Streamed, but no recording as yet.

Also involved was Rosana Cade, whose Walking:Holding (17-20 August; in the Gdn) “invites you to walk hand in hand with a series of very different local strangers around nearby streets, parks and alleyways. It is a participatory performance for one audience member at a time, offering a gentle meditation on identity, touch and intimacy in urban public space”.

Loitering with intent in Manchester

Loitering with intent: the art and politics of walking is an exhibition celebrating 10 years of Manchester’s Loiterers Resistance Movement (LRM),  organised by Morag Rose and running from 23 July to 14 October at the People’s Museum with accompanying events programme (again). Includes male-led events, such as Chris Wood‘s Spatial machines, exploring GPS infrastructure using walking exercises.

As part of the exhibition Tina Richardson has published the second STEPZ zine (PDF), inspired by Northern Psychogeography. Of most interest so far has to be the Manchester Modernist Heroines Walk, celebrating 10 inspirational women, conceived by the Shrieking Violet (on Issuu) in 2011.

Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse

Published on 28 July and R4’s Book of the Week from 8 August, Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: women who walk the cities (GuardianSpectator | Psychogeographic Review, who has a further flâneuse piece) is a blend of memoir and cultural history, focusing on five cities through the mirror of assorted flâneuses (pl? I have no French).

While the cover is off-putting and much, including the inevitable Guardian article, feels over-familiar, Lauren made some good points in an interview at the London Review Bookshop (audio; worth a listen not least for the audience comment: “most women are very interested in clothes”). She initially found Paris a very “ritualised society”, played out through “performative rituals” – walking was one way of connecting to the city. How you practice flâneurie is specific to a time, place and culture, it’s a subversive way of intervening in space. Today’s flâneu(r)/se is “anyone who feels they don’t quite fit in the space they are walking through”, and who by walking tries to defy “the affective charge” of the field of prescriptions (at c47:48).

Walking is like mapping with your feet, it makes you feel at home. Lauren did not walk in US suburbs, where you are considered weird if you walk without a dog or a tracksuit. In Denmark, walking is similarly restricted, although here by the bicycle rather than the car (you may also cycle with your dog running alongside, although tracksuits are definitely déclassé for the cycling crowd).

(See also Cole Swenson’s Walk, poems exploring the walking and writing of George Sand, Virginia Woolf and Lisa Robertson.)

Update: the library obliged. The best section was on Tokyo, an addition to the slim canon on not liking somewhere, where Lauren makes “an attempt to connect with Japan, or at least with its past”, liking Kyoto (note: To-Kyo) rather more.

For the rest, an editorial dead hand feels to be at play, with the sections of memoir feeling like an afterthought added to catch a current wave and addressed to an assumed ‘we’. The much longer biographical sections, as so often, require an interest in the subject to come alive.

As above what resonates most are the sections on moving to another country: “I came here with a suitcase…denuded of context. You quickly cover yourself with new things, a new persona. But you will live in a state of heightened sensitivity; you will always feel exposed…Although I loved the way it felt to be inspired by Paris, set at an angle to it, able to appreciate the ways in which it was different from home, the initial joy of displacement eventually wore off. I wanted to settle into a slot in Paris which corresponded to the slot I had vacated in New York…I was not a rebel. I was just someone who happened to have moved countries. Displaced, dislocated. I wanted to be re-placed, re-located. (p233-234).

On returning to her ‘home’ city she notes (p282) “My city isn’t mine any more. And yet it always will be, more than any other. We get to know our cities on foot, and when we leave, the topography shifts”.

The best quote though comes from Virginia Woolf:

  • As they grow older, says Rose (who has grown older), they become less visible, and they can walk wherever they like at any time of day. (quoted on p307; source: The Years, p173)

What gives?

Presenting the second #walkingwomen podcast, Dee Heddon and Cathy Turner postulated that #walkingwomen is not about heroic walks or challenges, but rather about how walking transforms the everyday. Walking not as a form of escape, but rather as a way of making connections and relations. See Walking women: interviews with artists on the move for examples.

Can’t it be both? This discourse just doesn’t meet me where I am coming from. Do women really walk so differently from men in the western everyday context? Cathy Turner’s account of the Rural Scapes artists’ talk takes Caspar David Friedrich to task once more – the heroic seems to be at the nub of concern, but don’t we all want to feel the rush sometimes? (Another CDF meme: his heroes are urban outsiders, dressed in city clothes, not part of the landscape.) All too often #walkingwomen reeks of “everything is awesome” (possibly the #some effect), if not the dreaded hygge. The LRM, more about play and inspired by the Situationists, feels a tad more edgy. Update: see also the 4th World Congress of Psychogeography (@TykePsychoGeog | #4wcop | again | report) much of which was streamed by John Popham.

Flâneurie is increasingly reproached for being a) male b) gentrified, an outsider pursuit. Exclusive yes, but not flattening or normative. It’s that which makes it interesting and challenging. (And gender is not a criterion for rejecting, or conversely accepting, something.)

On which note see Deveron Arts’ All roads lead to Venice on 12 August, marking Anthony Schrag‘s (and others) walks to the 2015 Venice Biennale, also involving an ugly walk, and the Guardian’s share your stories feature and follow-up – lots of outsiders there.

As for #walkingwomen, see also Janet Wolff’s The Invisible Flaneuse. Women and the Literature of Modernity (1985; citation) and Helen Scalway’s The Contemporary Flaneuse: Exploring strategies for the drifter in a feminine mode (2002).

London 2016

Thoughts from a recent trip to London, looking at building, buildings, buildings (more buildings on Flickr). What has changed in the last decade or so, and what does it all tell us about me, Copenhagen, London and life in 2016?

Sunday: Euston Road, Bloomsbury and Midtown

We started out by walking up Hampstead Road from the disused 1907 Euston tube station to Mornington Crescent, the first of many of Leslie Green‘s stations spotted in central London. Despite dying at the ridiculously young age of 33, Green’s impact on tube station design may well equal that of Charles Holden. Then entering ‘forgotten Camden’ (see Tom Bolton’s St Pancras trail) we took in the splendid 1960s St Aloysius RC Church before approaching the three monster stations on Euston Road.

A sort of 19th century Crossrail, the construction process involved in bringing the railways into London extended over the course of 30 years, displacing 30,000 people in the process. St Pancras International was a new one on me, completely renovated from 2001-07 to welcome Eurostar, and now as much shopping destination as station. A symphony in red and white by George Gilbert Scott from 1868, with the kitschy statue to end all kitschy statues in the gallery, its general over-the-topness is not for me.

Much better is King’s Cross, the gateway to the north, where I have taken many a train and met many a parent. It has also changed completely, a 2014 restoration opening up the concourse and revealing Lewis Cubitt’s beautifully simple building from 1852. In contrasting fortunes 1970s style Euston, originally built in classical style by William Cubitt in 1837 but demolished in 1962, is unchanged, with the Euston Arch still found only on pub signs.

Also shined up is the Brunswick Centre from 1972 , an unusual mixed use development with council housing in a ziggurat design alongside a commercial section. Now renamed The Brunswick with repetitive shopping, and still hosting the Renoir Cinema. Of the Bloomsbury squares and gardens we tarried most at Thomas Cubitt’s 1820s Tavistock Square, with its statue of Virginia Woolf set against Denys Lasdun’s 1977 Institute of Education. After that, Charles Holden’s Senate House (1937) seemed almost underwhelming.

Walking down Tottenham Court Road heralded the self-styled Midtown, centred round St Giles Circus and the iconic Centre Point (1966), currently under wraps. Tottenham Court Road tube is transformed, with 2010s style wide open spaces inside (Paolozzi’s 1984 mosaics either in store or in Edinburgh) and Crossrail damage outside. Renzo Piano’s Central St Giles (2010) sets the tone – time will tell how the refurbishment of New Commonwealth House (1939) will fit into this context.

With the rain showing no sign of slackening we then walked through the gloaming down New and Old Bond Streets to Piccadilly, with its splendidly Art Deco Waterstones in the former Simpsons (1936), before taking in Leicester Square and a sumptuous south Indian thali near Warren Street.

Tavistock Square

Virginia Woolf with Denys Lasdun’s 1977 Institute of Education behind

Monday: from Hampstead modernism to the Alexandra Road estate

Hampstead modernism day, starting in Belsize Park at the Lawn Road Flats (1934) then on to Ernö Goldfinger’s house (1938) on Willow Road facing Hampstead Heath. By all accounts a formidable figure and immortalised by Ian Fleming, the house is quite superb, a ‘reintrepretation’ of a Georgian terrace in brick and wood on a concrete foundation.

Up to Parliament Hill for a first look at London’s new skyline and an inspection of dog walking mores in this prime spot. In contrast to Denmark dogs almost entirely off leash – although up to four per person – and having a good time, interacting in an entirely stress free way. A proposed Dog Control Order on a lamp post emphasised there were no plans to force dog owners to put dogs on a lead on any part of the Heath, although they are not allowed in children’s play areas. Icing on the cake: ‘no cycling’ signs throughout.

After lunch we followed the rest of the Hampstead modernism trail, juggling a laptop and the London A-Z. Highlights: New House at 13 Arkwright Road (1939) with its blue porthole, the six houses at Frognal Close designed by Ernst Freud (1937), where a resident asked us if we were architects, and the multicoloured 66 Frognal (1938). Round the corner on Frognal Way, one of London’s most exclusive streets, is Maxwell Fry’s Sun House and Gracie Fields’ rather less titillating house (which she probably never lived in), both from 1934. On a mild Monday afternoon we encountered any number of east European au pairs with their charges as we walked down to Finchley Road to gawk at the prices in estate agents’ windows.

Leaping forward more than 40 years we finished the day at Neave Browne’s Alexandra Road Estate (1978), made up of 520 apartments in three long crescent shaped blocks and bounded on one side by the West Coast Main Line. The first post-war council housing estate to be listed, in 1994, Alexandra Road has had its problems but retains a pleasing green ambience akin to that of a traditional terrace, if not exactly Bath’s Royal Crescent. Looking at features such as staircases and balconies more closely the evolution of brutalism from modernism comes into focus.

Goldfinger's house (1938)

Goldfinger’s house (1938) in Hampstead

Tuesday: the Thames, London Bridge and Bankside

After mopping up some final West End sights time to go south of the river, with a brief jaunt to Vauxhall for the PoMo classic that is Terry Farrell’s MI6 building (1994) and the Vauxhall Tower (180m) on St George’s Wharf, the latter striking the same bum notes as the Strata Tower at Elephant & Castle, neither well designed nor in the right place.

Bypassing the South Bank on this occasion we re-emerged at the for me practically unrecognisable London Bridge, taking in St Olaf House on Tooley Street (1930) before catching Renzo Piano’s Shard (2012, at nearly 310m, the max allowed, the tallest building in the EU; £25 to visit). Then onward to Norman Foster’s bijou City Hall (2002) and More London, our first encounter with the privatised ‘public realm’.

The south bank of the Thames is well laid out for walking, albeit with endless upscale shopping and drinking opportunities on this stretch. The outdated 1980s viewpoints with plaques detailing buildings on the north bank provide some sort of context for the changing skyline and an overview of architectural fashions – what will remain after a further 30 years?

Next, a short stop at Tate Modern, itself undergoing redevelopment with a monster extension due to open in June. The gallery has been open since 2000, but I remember it better as Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s power station hulk, in operation for a scant 30 years. GGS was also responsible for Battersea Power Station, still ‘under redevelopment’ after being decommissioned in 1983. The Oxo Tower just west of Tate Modern, originally built as a power station but rebuilt as an Art Deco cold store in 1929, has found a new role as Oxo Tower Wharf, with a full raft of shopping, eating, housing and cultural uses.

Then over Norman Foster’s Millennium Bridge, a bridge story to rival some of Copenhagen’s, to St Paul’s and Paternoster Square, then onwards to Aldgate, where we were stayed for the next three nights.

London skyline

City skyline from More London

Wednesday: the City and the Barbican

A tortured heap of towers? Foster+Partners’ Gherkin (2003, 180m), aka 30 St Mary Axe and previously the Swiss Re Building, on the site of the bombed in 1992 Baltic Exchange, was in situ the last time I visited London, but it’s Richard Seifert’s 1980 NatWest Tower, now Tower 42, I think of first.

In 2016 though there’s a whole City cluster away from St Paul’s sightlines – notably Richard Rogers’ Cheesegrater (1 Leadenhall; 2013, 225m), across the road from his 1986 Lloyds’ Building, as well as Rafael Vinoly’s infamous Walkie Talkie (2014, 160m; Britain’s most hated buildingstory | Carbuncle Cup) at 20 Fenchurch Street with its Sky Garden (from which you don’t have to look at the thing). Less written about or in your face is the Heron Tower (2011), at 230m the tallest building in the City. Which will last the longest?

What effect is all this having? See climate walk article for starters. Then there’s Crossrail, eliminating numerous blocks, and the general privatisation of public space. Bankrolled by oil money, derided as phallic symbols…but a successful city brand, judging by the number of tourist around in the first week of January. If you enjoy looking up, getting some perspectives on things, it feels well done –  at least if you don’t know what was there before.

On another note, the City is one square mile of prime walking country. Even if you are just popping out for your sandwich/ramen of choice, during office hours the streets are never quiet. Visit the City offers a visitor trail map (“one trail: hundreds of stories”), with a main trail and ‘side-tracks’ for London stories, culture, law and literature, skyscrapers and sculpture, and markets. Each square of the map is approx 400m, or about a five minute walk at a steady 3 mph pace, just feel the walking love…in addition there are 10 city walk leaflets, including a tree trail, and for locals a cornucopia of delights including short lunchtime walks for a quick heritage hit. Apparently Harry Potter tours are a thing, as were James Bond tours around the time of Skyfall, plus anti-capitalism tours such as Occupy London tackling inter alia public realm issues. It never stops…

After all that corporate excess on to old friend the Barbican (story) with its nods to culture (we tracked a lad carrying a tuba across the plaza and back over lunch) and upscale brutalist housing, and the gentrifying 1950s Golden Lane Estate

Gropius shopfront

shopfront designed by Walter Gropius in 1936, at 115 Cannon Street

Thursday: the Olympic Park, Poplar and the East End

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park reopened in Easter 2014. In terms of legacy, without coming over all Twenty Twelve, it shows off a lot of current tropes.

It was rainy and pretty deserted when we visited as part of our packed east London programme, so no time to explore the The Olympic Walk from Sporting Tours of London, good wheeze that. While the revitalised park, “the same size as Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combined”, seems focused on looking forward, a London 2012 trail guide does offer pointers to what happened where. Designed by the team behind New York’s High Line with waterways, woods and wildlife habitats created on the marshlands, there’s plenty to explore beyond the playgrounds and between the building sites, although this kind of designed experience hides rather than reveals.

The four interactive trails on offer include a guide to the 26 permanent artworks in the park. Biggest is the 114.5m high ArcelorMittal Orbit, Britain’s largest sculpture. You can climb it or abseil down it for £85 (£130 to upgrade to live vid), and a slide will be in action later in 2016. Also offers activities and events. Entry: £12, which feels a bit steep for a view of east London. Rather more pleasing are Ackroyd & Harvey’s 10 History Trees, placed at entry points to the park; in total 4300 trees have been planted in the area.

The Olympic Village, renamed the East Village, is the most developed quarter, a dead ringer for any of Copenhagen’s bland new areas. Scandi style, or just modern style? It certainly didn’t feel like London. Oliver Wainwright in July 2013: “making workable streets from tarmac wastes and weaving housing around velodromes is a difficult and expensive way of producing a good city”. A shopping centre and a new ‘international’ station doesn’t a place make – the arrival of West Ham may be what’s needed. Update: here’s Olly in August 2016.

From Stratford we took the DLR down to Poplar, formed as a district as long ago as 1855 and encompassing areas including Bow, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs, but from 1965 part of Tower Hamlets. Two town halls remain, both listed: on Poplar High Street (1870) and the Art Deco style New Town Hall on Bow Road (1938), which we missed by turning the wrong way exiting the station.

Poplar plays a key role in the history of social housing in the UK. Between the wars the council built a total of 1500 homes in the area, including the Art Deco Holmsdale House (1938), complete with deck access. In 1951 the first phase of the Lansbury Estate (again; fab article; in 2017 the home of the V&A’s Lansbury Micro Museum) was chosen as the site of the Festival of Britain’s Exhibition of Live Architecture. Alongside is Chrisp Street Market, the first specially designed, covered and pedestrianised shopping centre in the UK with iconic bell tower by Frank Gibberd, from 2012 a Portas Pilot.

A further round of development took place in the 1960s and 1970s resulting in two ‘streets in the sky’ developments. First, the much written about Brownfield Estate, with fairly unobjectionable low rise punctuated by the cluster of Ernő Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower (again; 1967, 84m), accompanied by Carradale House and Glenkerry House, aka the rather more well behaved baby Balfron. Goldfinger and his family stayed in Balfron’s Flat 130 for a whole two months in 1968.

The decision to kick off redevelopment of this concrete monster was made as long ago as 2008, since when some flats have provided live-work accommodation for a posse of artists. Other tenants have gradually been ‘decanted’ elsewhere, with the block to be refurbished for sale on the open market. A certain amount of hooha was caused in October 2014 when the Goldfinger flat was done up Sixties style by the National Trust and opened to heritage fans for 10 days as part of Bow Arts’ Balfron Season. Still awaiting refurbishment it all felt pretty desolate with wind of Himalayan proportions – a major treat for concrete fans.

Nearby is the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens (1972), “an urban solution to an impossible site” and perhaps rather too clever for its own good, due (again) to be pulled down soon – there were CPO notices hanging by the entrance. Expecting something on the scale of Sheffield’s Park Hill, the 214 flats actually felt full of potential, and rather more viable than the Balfron wind tunnel, but is seems it is not to be.

Fascinating round here, so close to 1990s Docklands and so clearly on the cusp of 2010s gentrification, with three hotspots on the London campaigns map and cycle superhighway CS3 passing through. More wandering took us to Bartlett Park with its eponymous Brookside style close, complete with two private land signs and a burnt out church.

As for the rest of the East End, despite having visited London countless times from birth and living there from 1987-93 I had no mental map at all, but can now vaguely place what were formerly merely names, known mainly from the Monopoly board, with any number of leads to follow up. Our final impression was the creeping approach of the City, with Commercial Street gradually crumbling away – our bus to the airport left from beside a hoarding surrounding the one remaining wall of the 1929 Fruit & Wool Exchange.

St Leonard's Road, Poplar

converted church and WW1 war memorial at St Leonard’s Road, Poplar

Our trip summed up: a reminder that humanity comes in lots of different shapes and sizes. People just getting on with their lives, without being channelled into an approved lifestyle. People meeting your eye and not looking away (and talking extremely loudly), creating interaction and even a sense of wellbeing. And trees make a city – everywhere should have a Tree Routes app.

Tidy uptight Copenhagen is in a different place on its gentrification journey, with hipsters largely confined to the city centre and few creatives spotted on Vestegnen thus far. Social housing has been rather better maintained than in the UK, and most new housing is going up on brownfield sites left by the collapse of the harbour and related industries, extending King Canute-like onto reclaimed land. But Amager looks like becoming the first front line, as Ørestad pushes its shiny face into the older neighbourhoods of Sundby and Tårnby (which at a pinch translates as Tower Hamlets), creating some awkward transitions.

And Denmark has a different sense of place, very much of the here and now, with style (aka design) winning over substance. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that this focus on surface is because there are fewer layers left to unpeel? And that some of the attraction for expat Guardianistas and journos is just how these differences play out? Or is it all just another successful city branding strategy?

Reading: Brutalism:Online | Concretopia: John Grindrod’s book, blog & timeline | London’s: footpathstallest buildings | London Deco FlatsModernism in Metro-Land | Modernist BritainMunicipal Dreams | Museum of London: City & Docklands | Spitalfields Life | Walk London | Adrian Yekkes: East End Modernism & More Hampstead Modernism & London Art Deco part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | yet more. Also Homes of tomorrow, audio on Goldfinger’s “utopian drive to build for a better world”. 

Some East End walks: Alternative LondonBrick Lane and Spitalfields cultural trail | Jack the Ripper tours (at least 10) | The Missing Voice (Case Study B) (Whitechapel) | Memoryscape (inc Royal Docks, Victoria Park) | Soundmap (Brick Lane) | Tower Hamlets walks & trails | A walk through Spitalfields’ stories. See also Richard White’s social walk in QEOP (blog) in May 2015.

Finally, Nairn…two pub walks (London Review Bookshop | Caught by the River), plus Gillian Darley on the bus.

Arkitekturens Dag in CPH

Bumped for 2014, with the theme of welfare – see programme. Exhibition and guided walk in the Greve suburb of Hundige, built on the familiar pattern of an S tog with shopping centre, library and cultural centre attached, plus visits to two homes, one from the 1960s, when increased prosperity made it possible for people to buy their own homes, and one from the 1970s, the boom years of social housing. See also the Husker du? app.

Moving north east round the bay the Kroppedal Museum also has an exhibition on in Ishøj Bycenter, with locals invited to add their stories on Facebook. Arkitekternes Hus has visits to Brøndby Strand and Bellahøj, both currently being renovated. Finally, there are social housing pearls all around Copenhagen if you know where to look – ie up. The Design Museum has a Se op! self guided walk around the city centre and Christianshavn with accompanying map, seemingly only available in a paper version on the day. Boo.

Denmark no longer participates in Open House weekend, which took place in London and nearly 20 other cities; lovely review of the work of Ernö Goldfinger.

1 October is Arkitekturens Dag (World Architecture Day), of course it is. 2013’s theme is Room for growth, how architecture and urban planning can contribute to the economy. welfare and environment. Lots of things going on including guided walks, who knew. Here’s some linkage:

  • harbour tour with city architect Tina Saaby – tracing ‘growth’ over the last 10-15 years from an industrial area to a recreational opholdsrum; proposed for the future are a metro line to Sydhavn, more bridges, developments at Enghave Brygge and Papirøen
  • lecture by the Generøs By boys (Politiken‘s architecture editor Karsten Ifversen and architect/photographer Jens Lindhe; Facebook)
  • Sound settlements – lecture about social housing in the Øresund Region, including Albertslund (website); see also Brøndby Strand: hvorfor ser det ud, som det gør?
  • Tomme huse – event in the central library on the theme of empty houses, inc presos on Givrum.nu and by the Abandoned boys (Jan Elhøj and Morten Kirkhoff; urbex in DK and beyond; see also Copenhidden Meetup)

Bleeding London: the challenge

We’re just coming up to the first anniversary of this blog – my first post was The lost art of walking, my notes on Geoff Nicholson’s book, published on 5 June. So it’s all his fault…

I’ve published 83 posts (and I’ve a huge  stash of drafts), so this is no 84 and an average of seven posts per month.

On his Hollywood Walker blog Geoff has just posted about Bleeding London: the photo project (Facebook), which has the aim of photographing every street in London:

If the standard A to Z is to be believed, that will involve covering 73,000 streets, an enterprise that sometimes strikes me as utterly insane. At other times however, I think well, let’s imagine the RPS can round up 1000 committed photographers, that’s only 73 streets each, and these guys can take a couple of hundred pictures in a day, so that seems perfectly doable.

While in London Geoff knocked off a square of the A-Z: “frankly it was absolutely knackering, mentally as much as physically (although the expedition only took a little more than three hours)… Here there was the impetus, the necessity, of finding something to photograph in every single street. You could argue that there’s something very democratic about this, maybe something very Zen. Every street becomes equal, you have to find something of interest, something “worth” observing and photographing regardless of where you are.”

Now that’s a challenge for our walks in Danish suburbia! Like writing, photography is a way of exploring the territory (map is not the…) and making it your own. I’ve started taking photos of our five walks and we’ll see what we can do for June.

And it’s low effort/data, building into something else through accumulation. Geoff quotes Sol LeWitt:

When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

Update, July 2015: the Bleeding London Exhibition is go! Plus Footprints of London’s Jen Pedler is offering Stuart’s first walk, blogged by Geoff. I’m almost moved. Meanwhile, we have coloured in some more local streets, but plenty more still to go.

Mark Mason walks the lines

An alternative to beating the bounds is walking lines. I’ve just finished my second book of the year, a record compared with the last few years which I’ll try to maintain. Anyway, Mark Mason’s Walk the lines: the London Underground, overground (2011), is a sort of urban Simon Armitage with a twist of Geoff Nicholson. While it started out a bit slowly, or maybe that’s just my difficulty with reading, by the last third I was galloping through it, turning down corners as I couldn’t bear to get up to get a pencil or paper to take notes.

See reviews on Amazon Goodreads. Mark offers walks on the Piccadilly, Central and District lines on his website, The importance of being trivial, and his follow up, Move along, please: Land’s End to John O’Groats by local bus, looks tempting.

In terms of lines to walk hereabouts, the obvious one is Hvidovrevej, which runs from the fleshpots of Damhusøen to the sea, but it’s not exactly Oxford Street. Back when we had an only beagle him and me did a decent section of our local S tog line, but with two you can’t just hop on a train to get back, and sniffing time is doubled (if not trebled) anyway. In Copenhagen proper there are several possibilities – more S tog lines plus the metro lines, and round The Lakes, which surely must have been done.

Back to the book…my mother was brought up in London, she and my father spent a couple of years there and I lived in south London for several years myself, so it was a bit of a nostalgia fest. I probably know the Northern Line best, which at chapter 6, or around halfway, is where things really started to resonate. Subtitled Nobody sees you, nobody hears you, on the first page Mark asks:

Does London drive you towards loneliness, make you more solitary than you might otherwise be?

He acknowledges “it’s menus for venues…I’d no more want people blanking me in a country lane than every passer-by on Piccadilly saying a cheery hello”, but after a factoid swapping session with mate Richard (“the conversation mirrors the Tube system itself, effortlessly linking up the entire city, tangents and connections getting you anywhere you want to go”) in the name of socialised pedestrianism Mark decides to try walking in company all the same. His chosen companion: Geoff Nicholson.

Geoff’s novel Bleeding London includes a character who walks every street in London, and in The lost art of walking he relates Albert Speer’s virtual walk from Berlin to Heidelberg via 2000 odd laps of Spandau prison garden. He and Mark get on fine – eye contact is minimised when walking, meaning that people talk freely, and they have the stimuli of Mark’s research notes and Stuart’s sightings from Bleeding London, as well as a brief Routemaster conversation:

My story about hearing one drive past our cottage in Suffolk one night, and looking out to see that it was a 159, the route I used to take to Jo’s in Brixton, is matched – no let’s be honest, trumped – by Geoff seeing a number 6, his local bus when he lived in Maida Vale, at Huntington Beach in Los Angeles.

In a spirit of joyful melancholy Mark mentions Stuart’s plan: when he’s finished walking London he’s going to kill himself. This plan embodies the theory that we walk as a celebration of death, but also the opposite (citing Dane Niels Bohr: the opposite of a great truth is also true). If there are two contradictory urges within us – to live and to die – then does London satisfy the latter as well as the former?

Geoff:

Great cities are like great art, they’re basically indifferent to the visitor…they don’t try to please us or to ingratiate themselves. So you don’t like London? Big fucking deal…You don’t judge great works or great cities – they judge you.

The real test is to stay in the little place, to see how big a fish we could be in the little pond, rather than contenting ourselves with being minnows on the basis that everyone is a minnow.

Next up the Circle Line, at the heart of a great challenge beloved of Australians – the Circle Line Pub Crawl. Mark embarks on this with Matt, the latter in suede lace-ups. About half way in they start walking (and drinking) separately – Matt drinks faster but walks more slowly. It’s hard work, and all that for the line which goes nowhere. 

Mark concludes his challenge walking the Metropolitan Line at Xmas in the snow. Things begin to get difficult: “I’m not looking around so much, concentrating on my feet…it really does start to feel like my senses are closing down, insulating me from discomfort…Walking brings a heightened awareness not just of your surroundings but of yourself. It just so happens in this case it’s a heightened awareness of how awareness can be lowered.”

One of the reviewers on Amazon castigates Mark for lack of Iain Sinclair, but with an extended section walking with Bill Drummond, musing on his cake circle and soup line projects as well as his circular urban work, Surround, plus taking on Richard Long (Bill says he walked into a gallery showing a Richard Long after following a map on which he had written ‘Bill’ – the gallery was at the bottom of the second L) I think this can be excused.

Earlier on Mark comments that the people he knows in London aren’t Londoners, they moved there. Bill echoes this:

If you’re growing up in some far-flung corner of the British Isles you’ve got more time to dream and make plans and develop ideas. If you’re in London there’s too much on offer, too much to take up your time just consuming rather than dreaming. There’s something deadening about it.

Mark concludes that London isn’t a city but an idea:

It’s just a collection of buildings and roads and parks and Tube stations linked by colourful lines which aren’t really there, just as the dreams and ambitions of all the people who come to London only amount to anything if you imagine them as a unified whole.

London is in our mind. But then our minds are all we have, and all we need.

For more Tube goodness see #underground on the A/drift Tumblr and the Tube category on Mapping London, an unending source of fascination. More London walking challenges aplenty on Walk London, plus a final nod to A series of tubes, who set out to walk London’s Tube lines for charity in 2011 and seems to have done five so far. Updates: found another – London buses, one bus at a time is the record of three ‘ladies who bus’, travelling every London bus route from end to end since 2009…here’s Diamond Geezer on the All Lines Challenge.

Postscript, 16 Feb: just finished Geoff’s Bleeding London. While not the sort of thing I normally read, if anyone ever asks me for a list of walking novels it can go on the list next to Harold Fry. The section on guided walks is great fun.

Post-postscript, 24 July: someone’s only gone and walked all the streets of central London – see Noelle Poulson’s Congestion Zone and Londonist interview. That’s dedication. I find I tend to drift, and not just because of the beagles.

how much of the Tube is actually underground?

how much of the Tube is actually underground?

Living Maps Network: map is not territory

Update, 12 August: the 2014-15 season has the title territory is not map, can you see what they did there…

The Living Maps Network is hosting a series of events on the theme of map is not territory, aimed at exploring new directions in critical cartography, ie:

the possibilities of challenging cartographies which marginalize or pathologise populations perceived to be obstacles to ‘progress’, ‘modernity’ or ‘public order’. It will also explore strategies of ‘counter-mapping’ linked to  community action, urban social movements and creative subversion. (Phil Cohen)

The seminars:

Tweeting at @livingmaps and #livingmaps, little traffic as yet, but as the programme proceeds curation is developing.

Mapping the field

Phil Cohen: Navigating the real? The map as model and metaphor

Phil is an urban ethnographer focusing on East London. The author of On the wrong side of the track: East London and the post Olympics, he is working on a series of projects relating to the Olympic Park – see the narrative map produced for the book (plus preso and full project description). His paper looked at issues around concepts of map and territory, followed by a film depicting the technical and aesthetic process of narrative cartography, Lights on for the territory. Over the final credits is a splendid personalised satnav:

Christian Nold: What does mapping map?

Christian is a researcher developing new participatory models and technologies for communal representation (GPS work in Greenwich and Stockport). His Bio Mapping project has been staged in many different countries with thousands of participants – see Emotional cartography and examples. His paper looked at a range of participatory mapping practices from locative media to citizen science research into environmental quality. Participatory mapping is a peculiar coming together of living entities, electronic devices and issues that creates surprising networks and alliances – what is actually going on in these projects?

Hidden histories

Conventional cartographies are good at depicting the visible surface of the world but tend to obscure or exclude its deeper layers of meaning, especially those associated with natural and cultural histories whose material traces may be difficult to decode. This seminar will explore some recent ‘archaeological’ strategies designed to excavate and put these hidden histories on the map.

Toby Butler: Memoryscape: site specific oral history in a community context

Toby Butler is an oral historian with a special interest in the design of urban trails and heritage walks using digital mapping techniques. In his talk he explored the potential of mapping memories for building connections in communities in spatial, historical and social terms, discussing Ports of Call, a community based mapping project around the Royal Docks in East London, and experiential mapping work with Italian-Canadian children in Montreal. For more see the West Silvertown oral history trail and Memoryscape. Update: slides.

Halima Khanom: Digital experiences of Limehouse Chinatown

Halima Khanom’s (@HalimaKhanom90Wander East through East project is an audio trail exploring the hidden history of Limehouse Chinatown, the original London based Chinatown. Inspired by the Situationist approach to urban exploration the trail encourages the walker to critically engage with Limehouse Chinatown, critiquing a homogenous, racialised, and sedentary characterisation of place and suggesting an alternative approach. Update: slides.

Bob Gilbert: Re-walking London

Bob Gilbert, the “green guru of Islington”, is the author of The Green London Way, a 110 mile walking route around London.

There is a story in the pattern of our streets, in the names we have given them and in the weeds that grown on their fringes. They are the stories of the people who have lived and worked there and the communities from which they have come. They are the echoes of lost landscapes; and of past associations reasserting themselves. This talk sets out to explore the lost, or hidden, stories of our locations and to explain, with practical examples, how we can ‘read’ an area. It also looks at the connections between ‘‘natural’ and ‘social’ history: how our transport systems affect the spread of wild plants or what the weeds of a waste land can tell us about world trade or our agricultural or industrial past. It will argue that human community depends on connections: with time, with place, with other people, and with the other species with which we share our space. Faced, however, with the power given to developers and with the demands of a growth-at-all-costs economy, we are in danger of robbing our streets of all meaning and of destroying a sense of place. Understanding where we are is essential to understanding who we are and we should view it as an act of resistance.

Grounding knowledge

The global knowledge claims of Cartesian cartography have been rendered properly problematic, but what are the epistemological groundings of maps that originate from more site specific, partisan and embodied forms of spatial understanding? If maps are graphic propositions about the world, how does their reading differ from that of texts or cultural memoryscapes?

Øyvind Eide: Sand in the mapmaking machinery: the role of media differences

Øyvind‘s PhD, The area told as story, explored the relationship between verbal and map based expressions of geographical information. He is currently investigating the limitation of texts and maps as means of conveying geographical understanding, using conceptual modelling of texts as his main method. His presentation showed how the differences between texts and maps play out, documenting a number of textual means of expression which are not translatable to maps.

David Pinder: Map and be mapped: critical cartographies in societies of control

David‘s work centres on urban culture, politics and art. His presentation addressed  aspects of the current interest in alternative, participatory and grounding mapping, seeking to trouble celebratory claims of empowerment and democratisation and centring on more ambivalent practices of over-identification, reworking and appropriation.

Iain Boal: The micropolitics of place

Iain, social historian and independent scholar, described two collaborative mapping projects:

  • the West of Eden project looking at communalism in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s
  • MayDay Rooms, an ‘archiving from below’ initiative at 88 Fleet Street, intended as a safe haven for documents of the counterculture and emancipatory movements

Iain is also “one of the planet’s foremost bicycle historians” and has published The green machine, a book on the world history of the bicycle, taking us full circle to Copenhagenize.com

Following the threads

Advocates of ‘big data’ projects suggest that given a large enough sample (“N=All?”) the facts will somehow speak for themselves and the map of the world will merge seamlessly part of that world. But the individual is always embedded in the particular whether using or contributing to a shared picture.

Gianfranco Gliozzo: Crowdsourced data and extreme citizen science

Gianfranco (blog | ExCiteS), formerly of Mapping for Change) reflected on recent trends and contradictions when crowdsourced data meets citizen science. Gianfranco is currently interested in the relation between citizens and their environment, involving spatial analysis techniques, geography, linked data, ecology and ICT.

Nela Milic: A new mapping of Belgrade

Building on her earlier work at Goldsmiths on Balkanising Taxonomy artist and researcher Nela Milic presented her work on the BG:LOG project, “an alternative map and the archive of Belgrade. We are reviving the spirit of the city through memory about the fellowship between people, solidarity, little known big things and events, famous and anonymous neighbours, public spaces and friendships, life and work in the Serbian capital, which changed significantly in the last three decades.” See for example Days of remembrance.

Marginalised bodies, liminal spaces

The modernist dream of a rationalised city depended on the production of mappable public space and free circulation. But urban growth and regulation required rapid transit systems, an apparatus of surveillance, and the privatization of amenities. This has marginalised groups whose style of movement about the city fails to conform to norms of speed and efficiency.

Rob Imrie: Off the map? Disabling designs, impaired vision and the illegible city

The legibility of urban environments depends on signs, cues, and signals, including visual, tactile, and auditory media. In the drive to commercialise and aestheticise urban environments many street environments are rendering places illegible and difficult to navigate or make sense of, particularly for those with vision impairments and different types of cognitive impairment. Is a new form of urban (dis)order emerging as part of faddish approaches to the design of streetscapes, with disabling design, including design that dis-orientates, part of a new wave of urban renewal? Such (shared) spaces can be part of new spaces of exclusion, rendering them ‘places off the map’. See Rob’s page at Goldsmiths for more.

Andy Minnion and Sue Ledger: The enabling city: multimedia mapping for self-advocacy and social inclusion

Andy and Sue have both been working with people with learning disabilities using photography and mapping to co-create new personal maps of local communities that highlight the lives and experiences of people often excluded from their neighbourhoods. Details were shared of two action research projects with people who find conventional communication difficult and whose connections to their local landscapes are rich but whose stories were untold:

  • the Staying Local Project maps lost histories of people with high support needs in London, using mobile interviews, life journey mapping and photography – see the Social History of Learning Disability Research Group (Open) for more
  • Andy of the Rix Centre for Innovation for Learning Disability (UEL) shared “easy build wiki websites” made by east Londoners with learning disabilities, accessible and user centred rich media sites charting local opportunities for disabled people alongside individual strategies for community participation

Both projects are creating new local topologies from the knowledge and experiences of people with learning disabilities and using multimedia advocacy to build social inclusion and challenge the configuration of services and support.

Constructing new geographies

The model of the post modern city as an ‘assemblage’ or ‘space of flows’ poses a special challenge to ethnographers and cartographers to produce more fluid forms of mapping, keyed in to urban networks, while also articulating fixities of power, property, privilege and prestige.

Speakers:

  • Rhiannon Firth (UEL) – Anarchy in the maproom? The case of 56a Infoshop; argues for a critical cartographic practice based on an anarchist ethos of anti- rather than counter-hegemony, drawing ideas of cartographic pedagogy as affect, affinity and performativity; paper
  • Paul Watt (Birkbeck) – Mapping mobilities: the East London diaspora; examines various shifting diasporas with reference to residential, work, leisure and family-related mobilities that traverse East London to the city’s eastern suburban hinterlands
  • Adam Dant – Mapping the new East End; alternative maps inc 50 people of East London, Journey to the heart of East London, Maps of Shoreditch past and future

Communities of resistance

In many urban contexts regeneration has become synonymous with gentrification; it has also provoked different forms of resistance, from fully fledged social movements, to single area campaigns and individual protests. This seminar looks at some local case studies of contemporary regeneration, at how communities of resistance came into existence and the role of ‘counter mapping’ in this process.

Michael Edwards: The New Metropolitan Mainstream: can we map London in an international comparative framework?

Summarised the origins and intentions of the New Metropolitan Mainstream (NMM; blog), an unfunded collaboration among activists and scholars in 36 cities around the world. Founded 25 years ago by the International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA) it draws its inspiration both from theoretical discussions (Lefebvre via Schmid, Mayer, Harvey) and activist experiences. City teams are collaborating to produce maps and texts which examine processes of capitalist urban transformation, commodification, displacement and also patterns and episodes of resistance—counter-moves by citizens.

Michael (@michaellondonsf; UCL Bartlett School of Planning) is a founder member of the Just Space network and INURA and has been involved in numerous campaigns, most recently in relation to the redevelopment of Kings Cross. He is contributed a chapter to Sustainable London? The future of a global city (2014).

Katarina Despotovic: Urban regeneration as city branding, gentrification and enchantment engineering: the case of  Centrala Älvstaden in Gothenburg

Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden, is undergoing a class remake of the city that not only displaces working class housing from its central parts but also privileges and normalises whiteness. The case of Kvillebäcken shows how an area formerly defined as remote was redefined as central during a new phase of remaking of the central city. By an imaginary redrawing of the city map the local political and economic elite decided to exploit and invest in this area. There were colonial dimensions in the rhetoric of the redevelopment as it was presented as an expansion into ‘unexploited and uninhabited areas’.

Martine Drozdz: The (in)visibilities of communities resisting gentrification in London

Offered a critical exploration of different cartographic documents produced while working with various groups involved in strategic action against some adverse effects of regeneration in London. From maps of gentrification showing the contemporary modalities of the privatisation of public assets to the attempt to map contentious activities around regeneration projects using newspaper archives, the presentation reflected on the public (in)visibility of communities in resistance in contemporary London. See Mapping protest over urban space in London, which showed that “what I was actually mapping had more to do with how conflicts were represented in press than their actual geography”.

Very timely. To me the ongoing process of redevelopment in CPH feels very one note, mainstream and flattening, however a lot of the regeneration is taking place in former industrial areas, meaning that the effect on the population is rather more indirect and causes little to zero protest. The NMM mapping approach could be helpful – see Glasgow | London. There’s definitely a process of normalisation going on, with WoCo city branding and the ‘active Danish lifestyle’ to the fore – enchantment engineering? Redevelopment, regeneration, redefinition, remapping, redrawing…it’s gone on for centuries here. The whole of CPH is a ‘display window for sustainable urban development’, a tool in the hands of the city’s political and economic elite and BIG firms, building and promoting their own image of the future. It may be benign, but varied and diverse it ain’t. Oh, and where I live, there’s nowt.

Mapping the future

GIS cartography is increasingly used as a tool of governance, but how far can it be mobilised for radical pedagogies and community action? And do the imaginative and narrative maps produced by visual artists and critics offer a more precise, as well as more poetic, way of representing the emergent political and cultural landscape of London?

Speakers:

  • Louise Francis (Mapping for Change) – Participatory mapping and community action: new directions in citizen social science
  • Ken WorpoleThe emergent landscape of Thames Gateway; cultural critic and environmentalist who has written widely on aspects of contemporary urban design and architecture, author of The new English landscape (2013); see Going Dutch: 21st century parks

Two TEDs on cities

I’m not a TED type (2016 update: TED and Pecha Kucha presentation formats have passed their best-before dates), but going by the tweets TEDxLondon: City 2.0 on 6 Dec was relatively free of the usual urrgh and so good I Storyfied it – key takeaways below, plus see also reports from two attendees (Urban Times | Rory Bergin):

  • shift into cities and mega-cities driven by baby boomers and millennials –> still don’t buy it IRT CPH
  • Pavegen – “If 100 steps from each of the 500,000 people/day on Oxford St. were on a @pavegen tile, you’d power it for 7 nights” –> generating energy by strolling, more please!
  • both the UK and the US have surpassed the peak of car use –> search n replace Denmark, bike, new ideas needed
  • Biophilic Cities – “cities that care about, seek to protect, restore and grow this nature, and that strive to foster deep connections and daily contact with the natural world” –> trees please
  • guerilla gardening!
  • “do we have time to engage with each other or are we too busy relaxing and sleeping” – IRT public/private space issues
  • social urbanism and what it means to belong: “the interweaving of human urban life is the genius of the metropolis”; empathy and how we create empathy amongst ourselves is the missing link we’ve identified today
  • “‘the invention of the car turned traditional cities inside-out’. What will happen when tech fragments shopping”
  • from ownership to access: we are on the brink of a sharing economy. How will shifts in retail change the shape of our cities?
  • hyperlocal cities where everyone’s a producer and a trader, or aspirational cities where citizens are truly global? –> a hybrid

TEDxCPH: Green natives (Conferize) on 9 Dec looked like a good follow-up. Some doubts caused by the messianic copy but after hunting down further info two of the five speakers sounded interesting. Sod’s Law of event streaming meant that I tuned in just in time for a lengthy break – Danish timekeeping at events is fluffy.

Caught a little of Søren Hermansen (energy magician; Samsø) and all of Søren Ejlersen (Aarstiderne, Haver til maver project with schools, wants the 50% of the Danish population who do nothing to urban farm; “amputated from nature”, “step out of the industrial paradigm”), tuned out during Gry Worre Hallberg (“operates in the intersection of performance art, research, activism and future studies continuously executed in 1:1 co-created experiments”, a bit Burning Man), leaving my two interesting talks.

The first was from Flemming Rafn Thomsen of Tredje Natur, who advocate “a new way of architecture, where cities and its human life are made part of curated and meaningful urban nature…city and country come together in a ‘third nature’ where the classic contradictions between city/nature, transportation/recreation, visible/invisible, /their/ours and problem/resource are dissolved and new urban communities created”. An alternative to BIG, or more of the same?

It was stated that “we’re rocking this thing!” IRT to green, guaranteed to set my teeth on edge. You would think we were already at ‘after optimisation’…

The obligatory TEDx video of the Transition Network epitomised a key issue – #sharingcph is a top down city branding strategy. From where I’m sitting there may be green entrepreneurs who have ‘gone native’ and hokey good works with shiny #some presences, but there’s a lack of genuine and visible bottom up community activity in the land of hygge. At TEDx London empathy was identified as the missing link, echoed in CPH, where people were talked of as if they were a separate species. Danes need to get out of their bubbles and talk to each other – and the rest of the world.

On which note Johanne Mose Entwistle, energy anthropologistblogs at Ingenøren, talked about “the lack of human focus in our sustainability approaches…we need to take into account the human perception of energy and energy consumption before we can change behaviour”. A big +1 for the importance of social norms and values, both of which are not in your control. It’s not all about tech and data, and different interventions are needed – see her slideset.

Most of the speakers had impeccable Danglish skills (a Danish version of The Muppets’ Swedish chef), while Johanne was at native level, rather less distracting. Hence no need for TED’s Open Translation Project on this occasion, but good to know it exists.

I’m not a Conferize fan, and after a quick looked segued over to TweetBinder, which at 23:00 is showing c300 tweets, 89 text only and a stonking 109 RTs. Baa! New: for an alternative views and some great shots of the UN building see Classic CPH’s Ted and I.

There was also a graffiti wall with some sketchnoting going on.

A final postscript on why TED is not for me: “now we have a harp”…