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Senior was a London architect who walked every day, in the morning, to his studio, and in the evening, back home. He was a walking enthusiast, to the point that, one day, he decided to walk to India. And so he did. Walking was a necessary practice for him to organize thoughts, develop projects, prepare and digest the day. Much more than a physical activity, walking was a thinking practice.

I moved to London in the beginning of 2009. The world was living the recently started crisis. The effects in the city were felt in several levels and in the people’s daily behaviours. Restaurants were almost empty; Saturday afternoon/evening programmes with friends would include picnics and barbecues in the park, home parties, much more than going out to pubs, bars or discos; Timeout multiplied its suggestions about what to do in London for little money; restaurants were offering the credit crunch lunch; and, a curious change, people started to walk more.

A friend who lived in Finsbury Park and worked in Soho started to go to work by foot, taking about an hour, and gaining time of thinking. Suddenly, walking had become a critical practice, by default.

I walked several times the distance from my home to the university, crossing Primrose Hill, Regents Park, Portland Place (where the RIBA and the Portuguese consulate are located), Fitrozia, Tottenham Court Road and arriving to the University College London. In these moments the encounter with other people takes place: the direct observation of what is going on around us and the possibility of interaction.

Walking, going by foot becomes strolling, creating encounters, potentiating the perception of the surrounding world. At the same time, the constant activity of walking and observing, allows us to free the thoughts from the routine, taking them for a stroll.  The words passeio in Portuguese, Spaziergang in German, stroll in English, promenade in French, passeggiatta in Italian denote a choice and not a need. ‘I’m going for a stroll’ is a ludic activity, connected to a certain hedonism, mostly urban, because when this activity takes place in another context (rural, landscape) it gets other names (like in German wandern). 

To walk, to stroll, was also the way to experience the pitoresque garden. The notion of time was very important in this concept. The proximity to nature was seen as a critical practice with political implications. ( As the French geometric garden is associated with absolutism, the pitoresque garden of English genesis is associated with liberalism.) Walking through the gardens would be beneficial, because, as Hill writes, in that time, nature was connected to moral virtue.

In the 19th century, Thoreau would perform walks, ignoring property borders, and these walks were connected to the ideas he was developing.

In the 20th century the concept of flâneur from Benjamin (influenced by the poetry of Baudelaire)  was adapted from the behaviour of the French society of the 19th century and gave a ludic sense to the walk. Flânerie means to walk without a target, like a person who chooses to get lost in a city in order to discover it. Criticising this term as typical of the bourgeois without a better occupation, the Situationists adapted the concept to dérive. This was, among other things, a critique to consumerism and to the society of spectacle. And so psycho-geography was born, associating emotional states to places.

De Certeau talks to us about the practice of everyday life and the role of walking. Rendell describes us critical walks where fiction and reality are mixed, inspired by the uncanny from Freud.

Shklovsky writes that walking is easier when another event is happening in parallel like walking while ‘talking up a storm’. Choosing the title for this post I created the expression ‘walk upon a storm’ using storm in a metaphoric sense, meaning a walk which defies adversities.

After we have travelled through some situations of walking, metamorphosed into strolling, ‘flâneuring’, ‘dériveing’ we are ready to analyse Portuguese cities to the light of this practice.

When I was studying in Coimbra, my daily trajectory crossed the Botanical Garden. When I came back from university it was already closed, but in the morning it was like a daily present: a space open to fantasy, the passing of time, the different seasons, different rythms... My passage through this scenery was different every time, every time altered by the stroll in itself, making me receptive to observe the environment around me and to reflect upon it.

The climate in Portugal is moderate (at least outdoors). We gather the ideal conditions to be a perfect country for walking. We always have the excuse of topography for cycling but this is not valid for walking.

In the crisis that we are currently going through, couldn’t walking be one of the critical practices we are looking for? More than saving some euros in petrol and saving the environment to emmisions, to gain a space of thinking? This space allows us to encounter others, understand what is going on around us, why did that shop close, why did the other open, today the shoe shiner is in a good mood, the flower-shop has made a promotion and so on. It means time to absorb the world and to experience micro-territories, complete the stroll. I believe this practice can change our cities.[1] It is similar to what Mendes da Rocha refers as the political dimension of the city: a city favourable to the creation of encounters. And it is in these encounters that we become more citizens. I guess I reached my conclusion: to walk potentiates citizenship.

And the rain? Let us walk... even if upon a storm!

 

 

 

 

P.S. Tomorrow, how about you walk to work? To the ones who accept this challenge I invite you to share your experience here, small episodes, circumstances’ observations, fortuitous encounters, everything that is relevant for the stroll...

 



[1] Let us do it, question mark. Lisbon could start and, together with the local commerce, create incentive programmes to who would walk. It could be through apps that would record the trajectories and that after x kilometres the happy winner would win a coffee in the next coffee shop, there will be plenty of ideas. The equipment enthusiasts would look for the right walking equipment, walking shoes. So our shoe industry could make interesting design proposals and create campaigns where all could win.

 

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