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February 2, 2008

Movement and Mapping Within the City

Prompt: Inspired by Andy Goldsworthy (and our discussions today), document and investigate, through text and image, this idea of energy, flow and transformation through the city.


I. Theory of the Dérive

When first presented with this prompt, I immediately thought of Guy Debord’sTheory of the Dérive. This is a Situationist idea that is a “technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences.? During a dérive drop all of their “usual motives for movement and action? and travel through an area by letting themselves “be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.? One thing the derive is not is a game of chance. Often people think that the dérive is just aimless wandering, but the theory is based off of the idea of Psychogeography, and that there are “constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.? The dérive is used to discover the principle paths of movement through cities and their pivotal areas.

Guy Debord studied the dérive primarily in Paris. Throughout his years of work there, he developed his psychogeographoc map of Paris. This map, pictured below, displays Paris, divided into sections that Debord experienced to be distinct from each other in some way. The space between the sections conveys the mentally-felt distance between the physical areas. The red arrows indicate the most frequently used passages between areas.

Derive 1.bmp

In my life, I take this Theory of the Dérive to mean walking around without a map and turning and going down another street or in a different direction because something over there looks interesting. In my travels, this is often how I choose to explore a new city, rather than obtaining a map and locating the places I want to go and visiting them in an organized, planned way. I just go walk and figure out where I am later, and unfailingly, I find interesting places, people and things. Another important part of the dérive, for me, is walking. Walking is the best way to see a city; it is a much better method of exploring a new urban environment than taking a car or bus or subway to the place I want to go. All vehicles are designed to get people from place to place in the quickest way possible, but when I’m actually trying to understand a new city and learn my way around, that is precisely what I don’t want. I want to be able to spend time, wander, explore and discover, and walking allows me to do just that.

In a related situationist study by Chombart de Lauwe in 1952, over the course of a year, de Lauwe mapped out all of the movements of a student in Paris’s 16th Arrondissement. The spaces she visits through the year are surprisingly limited, and center on her house, her piano teacher, and her School of Political Sciences. The map de Lauwe made is below. The goal of this study was to reveal “the narrowness of the real Paris in which each individual lives . . . within a geographical area whose radius is extremely small.?

Derive 2.bmp

This narrowness is not only true in Paris, however. I find it to be applicable to people living just about anywhere. While it is probably true that people today have a greater radius of movement than people in 1952, most people still live only within a small area and rarely venture out of this area. In my own life, I often find myself walking the exact same path to class several days in a row, even though there are many paths that would get me there just the same and I do try to switch things up to keep life interesting. People drive the same roads to work everyday. They visit the same grocery stores and department stores all the time, not bothering to find new and different ones. Humans are creatures of habit.

The Theory of the Dérive helps humans to break the habit of being habitual and only doing the same things all the time. It forces people to look around them, to notice their surroundings and walk in different directions, visit new places, meet new people and do new things. It moves people outside of the comfortable, small radius that they live in for years.

II. How Movement in the City is Affected by the City

The dérive, however, is not without restraints. Because each city is unique and was designed (or not designed) it is own way, every city necessitates that people view it in a certain way. Some cities (Boston, London) are easy to get lost in; others (New York) are not. All of this depends on the way the city is constructed. Sometimes, the nature of the city exists because of the way the city streets intersect with one another and the way the layout was designed. The location and site of the city also make a difference. Some cities are coastal (New York, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong), some have large, important rivers running through them (London, Minneapolis, Paris), some are in mountainous or hilly regions (Denver, Sao Paulo), etc. The city must be designed around all of these landmarks.

Looking at maps of different cities:

North America:

Map of Manhattan.bmp
New York


Map of Boston.bmp
Boston


Map of Minneapolis.bmp
Minneapolis

South America

Map of Buenos Aires.bmp
Buenos Aires


Map of Sao Paulo.bmp
Sao Paulo


Europe

map of london 3.gif
London


Map of Rome.bmp
Rome


Map of Paris.bmp
Paris

Asia

Map of Beijing.bmp
Beijing


Map of Hong Kong.bmp
Hong Kong

Above, I have grouped the maps by their geographical location. If I were to group the maps by the types of city layout, the straight gridded cities would be New York and Buenos Aires, and probably Minneapolis. The cities that have a grid to some extent would be Beijing, Rome and Sao Paulo. The cities without a grid would be Boston, Hong Kong, London and Paris. It is somewhat curious that geographical boundaries have almost no bearing on whether the city has a grid plan or not, and, it would seem, neither does age. Buenos Aires is older than Boston, and Beijing is older than everything. So what causes these differences? Natural landmarks? Individual planners? Redevelopment? Perhaps, but I really have no idea, so it’s probably good that that’s not really the point of what I want to discuss.

I have been to all of these cities and have varying degrees of familiarity with each of them. Generally, I find that the Dérive (my sort of it) works much better in cities without grids than cities with straight grid layouts. This is probably because part of the joy of the dérive lies in not knowing exactly where you are and what the quickest way to get from point to point is. There is excitement in getting lost. It’s basically impossible to get lost in a grid, especially in one like Manhattan’s, which is essentially streets and avenues numbered sequentially. I might even go so far as to call it boring. I’m not saying that Manhattan is boring (I actually find it to be quite the contrary), but the grid plan takes away from the joy of discovery inherent in the dérive. It is also interesting that Paris is one of the cities in which there is no grid plan, and Paris is the city in which Guy Debord and his theory were developed and experimented with, which is probably why the dérive worked so well there.

The city of the listed cities that I have the most experience with is London. I spent several weeks basically walking aimlessly around London, seeing what I could find. I got lost almost every day, but I always managed to find really awesome and amazing things through following my intrigue to different locations. I also always managed to get home because of their excellent tube system, which is another story.

III. Underground Transportation Systems in the City

Here are maps of all of the discussed cities’ subways (and Minneapolis’s Light Rail, because it’s not cool enough to have a real subway system).

North America

New York Subway.gif
New York

Boston Subway.gif
Boston

Minneapolis Light Rail.jpg
Minneapolis


South America

Buenos Aires Subway.gif
Buenos Aires

Sao Paulo Subway.gif
Sao Paulo


Europe

London Tube Stylized.gif
London

Paris Subway.gif
Paris

Rome Subway.gif
Rome


Asia

Beijing Subway.jpg
Beijing

Hong Kong Subway.gif
Hong Kong


When comparing these maps to the real maps of the cities (I would have put them next to each other, but I can’t figure out how to do that using this platform), it is very apparent that most of the subway maps portray a very different city than the actual city layout. Some of them (like Minneapolis) have more accurate maps than others, but most of the time, the subways connect different areas of the cities and then create maps that have distorted distances and directions. Some are more accurate than others, of course. This presentation of the city often creates slight confusion in the mind of the user, because they then are not actually aware, geographically, of where they are currently or where they are going. Below is London’s Underground map, the highly stylized and conceptual version, compared to the realistic geographical version.

London Tube Stylized.gif

London Tube Real.png

The differences between the two maps are very clear. Utilizing this mode of transportation through the city will create a very different schema of the city in the mind of the user than walking through the city using the dérive will. Using a car, bus or a bike will develop further different schemas. This is also dependent on whether the transportation is above ground or below ground, and upon whether the user operates the vehicle on his own. The ideas and concepts that people develop about the cities in which they live, work and visit are entirely dependent on their mode of transportation through the city.

IV. Another Way of Mapping the City

Other than the dérive, there are lots of interesting ways of looking at the city. Christian Nold, an artist, teacher and cultural activist who lives and works in London, developed a project he calls Bio Mapping. Bio Mapping is a community mapping project that attaches a device that measures emotional arousal to a person, who then walks around the community and their emotional arousal levels are connected with their location to determine which areas are areas of high and low arousal. The goal is to “show the areas that people feel strongly about and truly visualise the social space of a community.?

Some of his maps:

Harrow Emotion Map.jpg
Harrow Emotion Map - 10 Participants

Huddersfield Emotion Map.jpg
Huddersfield Emotion Map - 14 Participants

Kensington Emotion Map.jpg
Kensington Emotion Map - 39 Participants

Some of his projects, such as the Greenwich Emotion Map, are very large, with many participants, and also record the various stimuli that create arousal. Below is a detail of the Map.

Detail.jpg

This is a very interesting idea for portraying the energy of people throughout the city. It is a unique mapping concept, that, with further development, will probably be a source of information about urbanism and how people react to their surroundings.

V. In Summary

There are a lot of different ways for people to move through cities, and there are many different ways of mapping out cities. With each different method comes different knowledge, understanding and ideas. The layout of the cities themselves contribute to the way that the city is understood, but a lot of it has to do with the people in the city as well. Since cities change over time, the ways that people move through them also change over time. In the future, new methods of city planning, transportation and mapping will undoubtedly be invented, and they certainly will continue to change the idea of the city itself.