In the spirit of reflection that often accompanies the turn to the new year, I’ve decided to cannibalize my blog and repost several writings — one from each year beginning in 2004. I created my first website with a blog just as I was finishing my graduate thesis“The Practice of Walking”, was posted on March 9, 2004, and was written while I was living in Champaign-Urbana, IL. At the time, my partner was a graduate student in the MFA program at UIUC, and I was absorbing a lot of conversation there regarding critical spatial practice while also still processing the consequences of my graduate school experience.
First, from “Reimagining Walking: Four Practices” by Ben Jacks (in February’s Journal of Architectural Education):
In the face of modern alienation and postmodern absence, walking is a subversive act that enables us to contemplate bodily connections within the built environment. Walking restores a sense of connection; the act of walking penetrates the supremacy of abstraction and theory…
I was thinking vaguely about this notion of walking and connection today as I walked through town, especially when my feet landed on earth, rather than concrete or asphalt. The give of the moist turf accepted my step, acknowledged my body ever so subtly. My weight impressed the earth and then maybe the earth pushed back just a bit, springing my stride forward. Forward towards an old hospital that is just beginning to be demolished; the building is encircled by a makeshift chain-link fence. I walked around the edge in order to get a closer look at the preliminary demo work: underground utility lines marked with tiny color-coded flags and spray paint dashes, a smashed-in brick portico, felled trees, muddy tire-track scars in the surrounding yards. I walk around the building looking for signs of its impending demise, anxious. As I walk, my steps navigated the indeterminate space between the gutter and the curb and fence, but my eyes are drawn away and up, sharply scanning the hospital.
A few blocks away, I’m walking past an empty lot. A house was recently demolished here, leaving a gently convexed plot of deep umber earth. At each end of the lot is a “no trespassing” sign posted by the city. The tire tracks of some great bulldozer regulate the bare earth in the lot, a familiar pattern maybe, but remarkable here in its pervasiveness and severity. Actually, I came to this lot before walking towards the hospital. I had stopped to investigate the vacant lot and then caught sight of the hospital in the distance, remembering that it was soon to be destroyed. One void leads to another.
Some other factors, too, in the practice of walking: duration, slowness, perspective, horizon, itinerary, rhythm, start/stop, path, invention/submission, story. Others. In the aforementioned essay, Jacks explicitly discusses “sighting, measuring, reading, merging.”
Why the practice of walking? (Why the practice of everyday life, for that matter?) To deem some action(s) a practice is to draw a frame around it, to call attention to it as a deliberate subset of being/experiencing, to begin an inquiry into the thing and its history, to consider it as a tactic rather than mere happenstance.
Also rereading Hillary’s thesis. “Participatory consciousness” is on my mind and it relates to the practice of walking, that special connection to the world which it occasions. Participatory consciousness is the pre-Scientific Revolution worldview; it is being-in-the-world; it is the lack of distinction between subject and object, between fact and value. Modern scientific thought, then, finds us humans separate from the world so that we may quantify it—how as opposed to why. It seems to me that we’ve passed into a heightened or superior stage of this kind of disenchanted consciousness (dis-consciousness), but I can’t quite name it yet. Maybe it has something to do with material consumption and ubiquitous technology and mediated experience. Distance squared. Disconnection from disconnection. This is just a sense I have. So I go out and I practice walking.