Until the end of the 19th century, walking was considered an activity of entertainment. Today, we consider walking to be part of our daily routine as a form of transport complementary to other forms, but do we give any value to the walk? The Pedestrian Reconquest is an initiative that seeks to affirm that walking is the quintessential way to inhabit cities and therefore a means to improve, integrate and re-enchant us with our urban environments. To this end, walkers are given a notebook to record their pedestrian route and their vision of the city.
The way we move around the city determines the experience we have in it. Fundamentally, this is because the speed of displacement defines our visual field and with it the image of the city we perceive. From an aerial view, we can understand part of the logic of how the city was drawn. Also, if we are lucky, a car ride on roads with different heights can give us complex panoramic views of the urban landscape, offering us enough distance to see perspectives of the built fabric similar to what one would see upon arrival to a town by river or sea. However, it is our daily routines that link us to the immediate landscape: the world we confront through proximity and our day-to-day contact. In this context, walking, as a movement of just the body, has a privileged speed compared to other types of transport. The car and the bicycle let the urban landscape pass at a greater speed, but the pedestrian at 5 km/h can appreciate the landscape at eye level. From a park bench, our pedestrian can passively contemplate or get up and capture the city in a fragmented way through a limited, temporary and instantaneous field of vision, experiencing and then leaving behind parts of the city, a complex environment that changes according to the hour of the day, the season of the year, and the activities of the moment.
At the end of the 19th century, the walk was still considered a recreational activity, as entertaining as going to the theater or participating in a social gathering. Currently, it has become an obligatory and unavoidable way to cover some routine route. Why doesn’t going for a walk seem so entertaining? Rebecca Solnit in her book “Wanderlust, a history of walking” reflects on how the walk has been weakened in terms of its motivations, ceasing to be an attractive activity in itself, becoming “an indicator species,” that is, a reflection of what our urban environments are today: “…An indicator species signifies the health of an ecosystem, and its endangerment or diminishment can be an early warning sign of systemic trouble. Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedom and pleasures: free time, free and alluring space, and unhindered bodies.” (1).
(1) Solnit, R. Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Verso, 2002) p. 250.
Based on the above, “The Pedestrian Reconquest” (2) was born as a proposal to reclaim the walk as a way to give value to and increase our awareness of our immediate landscape. For this purpose, walkers are invited to register their usual routes in a small notebook, a hybrid between questionnaire and diary, which addresses physical, perceptual, functional and social aspects of the walking experience. The greatest aspiration of this proposal is to return again to relating to the city and reconquering the desire to walk. Daily routes are the starting point to approach this challenge. Although these daily routes seem to represent monotonous landscapes, devoid of singularities, if one is willing to become aware of their details, those same routes can arouse emotions or other motivations, and again make walking an attractive activity. This attitude can bring about the rediscovery of the landscape and a better understanding of the urban elements that make up our experience. We start with the premise that the finest elements of the city noticeably affect its walkers: routes are modified by roadwork and will drastically change the experience of walking. The hot summer pavement will improve with tree-lined streets and will be even better if those trees happen to be plum trees in bloom.
(2) Research project by the authors. Contact: email@example.com / Instagram @lareconquistapeatonal
Results of these walks demonstrate that walkers when registering their routes become more conscious of their urban landscape. For example, there are those who have walked the Paseo Ahumada every day for years, but only after filling out their diary have they discovered it has trees. Or there are those who defined the exercise of registering as “discovering new places in a place that you think you already completely know” (3).
For those walkers who have participated in The Pedestrian Reconquest, the landscape reveals itself as our walkers advance at a constant speed and put what they see within their own experience. A mother who chose the most continuous and homogeneous journeys recounted: “I usually negotiate with the children at what landmark it will be time to carry them because they are tired. What I like about the journey is that the borders are blurred, and I do not know when a block begins and ends, but I feel the green space. It is cumulative. So when Roque asks me pick him up, I tell him to walk just a little bit further and that little bit is always imprecise.” Another walker registered and characterized the places to buy food: “at the entrance to the subway there are always two menus, the fruit to the north and the fried food to the south; the vegan restaurant is good, but some of that food is cheaper elsewhere.” Whereas another walker defined his route according to the traffic lights, “On this part of the route, there are three traffic lights. The trip depends on the timing of these so sometimes it can take 4-5 minutes to pass through all three.” (3)
(3) Results obtained in the second experience of recording walks in a diary-notebook with 25 participants between December 2017 and January 2018.
There are lonely walkers, paired walkers, those with dogs, those with time, and those in a hurry. Each sketch is transformed into a unique and unrepeatable record, just like the experience of walking. Walkers invent their own codes and forms to convey their view of the experience. The Pedestrian Reconquest does not deliver − or even attempt to deliver − efficiency indicators of the walk, but rather it focuses on the purposes of the walkers. This project aspires to motivate citizens to recapture their cities through walking, and hopefully in turn, the cities will improve their street scale, becoming more walkable, less generic and more livable.
Nicole Pumarino Orbeta. Architect and holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Development from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Professional experience in the public sector in matters of urban planning, planning instruments and citizen participation. Teacher in the urban planning area.
Karen Seaman Cuevas Architect from University of Chile and holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Design: Art, the City and the Society, University of Barcelona. Professional experience in the public sector in design of public spaces, citizen participation and sustainable mobility. Teacher in Urban Design Department.