“The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.”
Walk into the Unexpected City
When we stop and think about it, our own neighbourhood, the local manor, the small side streets and the local square that we tend to take for granted, is more foreign to us than we’d admit.
Many people hardly know anything about their own neighbourhood. There is always this opportunity outside your own front door to go and find out what exists just around the corner.
Many of spend more time walking to the local supermarket and back, than actually exploring our neighbourhood.
As time goes by a lot can change in a neighbourhood. A city is nothing without its people. It’s the people who create changes that occur constantly. When you think about how many people move in and out of your local area every year.
In my on city around 20,000 people move into the city each year. The figures go up and down, but the influence of new faces, and people bringing new ideas into a city is important to the life-blood of a community.
People move to cities, find work, and find it easier to communicate with others and make new friends than they did when they lived in a small town. There’s always something in a city that offers each individual a gateway into their own lifestyle. The deeper we get, the more meaningful our lives become.
It’s this constant search for meaningfulness that drives people to explore their environment. And right now, during this Lockdown with Corona-19 virus, people are looking for new ways to make daily life more bearable.
Many of us still have the opportunity to go for a walk – as far as we wish.
A walking psychogeographer discovers newness on the streets that couldn’t have been observed a day earlier. Psychogeography is simply a way to wander through the streets like a flaneur. A person who enjoys being out and about for the sake of it.
It’s not without good reason that people follow this practice. They discover things that they didn’t know existed in their own neighbourhoods, and farther afield in the city.
The backdrop of a normally busy city, it’s famous monuments, buildings and streets that hardly change, stand and mark time so long as their history is still relevant. Yet, it’s surrounded by contemporary people and ideas. Shops, cafes, clubs and bars, children’s playgrounds and parks – all mostly built and designed from the 18th century onwards as society expanded and people needed more facilities. Workers migrated less and less, so a city really came into its own with development that had permanent residents in mind.
In Berlin, Brandenburg Gate, built in 1781 -1784, commissioned by Friederick Wilhelm II, and named the “Friedenstor” – “Peace Gate”. It has retained its meaning throughout history, and is often lit up with special laser lighting to honour another city or country that Germany supports. It’s always a symbol of peace and unity. The Brandenburg Gate has been the backdrop of many a tourist photo, and photographers, each day, attempt a new angle on it in the hope that they will create a unique vision of one of Berlin’s greatest monuments.
Its meaningfulness comes from the way people perceive it as an important object of attention.
Others walk through its portals and wander off along Unter den Linden towards Friedrich Strasse, the main shopping boulevard of Berlin-Mitte. The smart architecture and shops offer a glut of window shopping, book browsing, and cafes galore where you can sit and people-watch as you drink coffee and munch on a piece of chocolate cake.
It’s monuments like these famous streets and structures that were the beginning of modern cities. Things began to expand as people began to live in one place.
Each time I’m wandering along these streets, I see other people inspecting the walls, the buildings and using their smartphones to get fresh information on what they are looking at.
The mobile phone as a portal to information may sound like a neat hack that saves time. But time is not everything. The stop and start of scrolling, looking, reading and skimming words, takes the emotions off into another small universe far away from the streets. The feeling is often lost.
Lost Nights in the City of Fun
Some people prefer the night. They’ve discovered that the night offers them exactly what they are looking for, meaningful reasons to meet similar minded people, the places that are designed for night-hawks who sleep during the day, and become active only after dark.
Clubs and bars where the feeling of debauchery is mutual. Drink and get drunk, dance, and if you like, take your clothes off and experience a sort of freedom that the socially inhibited frown on. A place to strut your stuff and raise a little sand, cause moral outrage, if you like. Berlin has always been a city that loves a wild party.
Night and day offer differences that cut a fine line in the lives of many Berliners. Even now, in these Coronavirus Times, the clubs are locked down, but there have been so many impromptu parties. Late night “raves” in parks. Full metal jacket with speakers rammed up against the trees, crowds bathed in adrenalin like the only thing to do in life is to party come rain, high water, or sickness. And then run away when the Polizei get the dogs out. This isn’t living, nor is it neighbourly. Neighbourly, is an essential mentality when living in a city. Otherwise, we end up stressing each other out all day.
Walking like a psychogeographer is doing your own thing. There are no rules, and nobody can really explain what you have to do – except walk and enjoy the view.
You can even not call yourself a psychogeographical walker and just say you like going for long strolls and looking at things.
In Paris during the 1950s, Guy Debord arranged random walks in the sense of what he called psychogeography. He allowed several people to walk together so long as they had reached the same level of awareness necessary to not achieve anything particular throughout the walk.
His ideas were based on the philosophies based around the radical group, Letterist International. Basically, they wanted to avoid being dictated to by the environment and discover the city for themselves. Remember, architecture can influence our feelings and thoughts about where we live. Walking around, randomly encountering whatever turned up at the next plaza or street corner, led to conversations about their feelings and emotional response to the city.
These walks were known as “dérives”. The idea was to swiftly make your way through the streets, and when finished, discuss how it all made you feel.
The main philosophy behind psychogeography was to discover the streets, the city in your own way, and reinvent how you perceived it. A good idea, and a positive use of group projects.
We don’t have to go so far as Guy Debord with the swift walks and discussions, but other people are doing something similar these days; a study on Smartphones and the technology of artificial intelligence has allowed interested parties to gather facts and figures regarding where we all go, walk, and how often we stay away from home. The list can be broken down into details that are frighteningly personal.
We know it as geotracking. Geotracking is being used on Smartphones as a standard application, it’s also used to locate where in the world a customer is sitting, and what they are looking at.
Take geotracking one step further, and you have something called “geofencing”.
So, you think that your mobile phone has tracked you to the supermarket and back, the bank, the park, and then logged your visit that you make once a week across the city. You know this happened when Google asks you to write a review on the park that you visited, yesterday.
Imagine if your smartphone logged exactly where you were, and how you felt. The idea of geofencing is to discover not only locations, but the feeling levels of the person visiting a certain location.
It wants to know if you are anxious, happy, joyful, sad, or any number of human emotion responses.
When we venture off into the city and tell our spouse, friends, and so on, that we are going out for a while, we walk away into another world. Maybe, a world that, for some, is very private. Remember the night clubs, debauchery, drinking till dawn and dancing in sweaty nakedness with an absolute stranger? That gets geotracked, and in future it may be geofenced.
Geofencing is an experiment to not only track movements of smartphone carriers, but to also monitor their reactions in certain locations. The objective is for the application to act like an alarm. If you begin to wander into a zone that has similar architecture, people, or activities that have made you anxious in the past, the smartphone app will warn you and guide you away from a zone that has been designated as a conflict for you.
Jim van Os of Maastricht University has been conducting studies with volunteers to monitor stress levels when entering different locations in the city.
Combine this with brain imaging techniques and the on the spot questionnaire that Jim van Os uses in his studies, and it could be one day be useful to help people suffering from various types of depression, or mental illness that is exasperated by high stress locations.
Train stations, shopping centres and various hot spots of stress can be avoided with the knowledge already stored and combined with your own anxiety indicators.
The whole idea is obviously questionable and probably only useful in a positive way to people needing such information. But as a general smartphone, built in application, it’s going to be another step in the invasion of our privacy to explore the world, perceive it according to our own world view – and accept things when we make mistakes such as walk down road full of construction sites, or discover for the first time that train stations and noisy locations turn us on.
Find the Unexpected
I love to go out walking for miles, and miles. I tend to go, and think on the way about which general direction I’ll take. This way I can discover new streets and old buildings where once something interesting took place. There are always brass plaques on old red brick walls, and good books to read about the city you live in.
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