Focussing on Small Scale Dilemmas

Urban Geography

Pop Rocks in Robson Square.

Phenomenon, Psychogeography, Urban Geography rant… Also Vancouver’s Connection to the Situationists International.

Psychogeography is a term investigated by the Situationists International that has close relationship to the theory of derive. It is a somewhat vague study of the urban effects of phenomena that occurs within a alternate world, that which would normally not exist if confined to the habit of the everyday capitalist. The phenomenon by which psychogeography studies can happen at a variety of scales at which they exist and typically only occur in relatively short periods of time. For now I’ll classify them as a Large Phenomenon and a Small Phenomenon based on the amount of people it takes for it to happen.

Sergio Romo sporting a “I just look illegal” shirt at the 2012 Giants World Series Parade

The large phenomenon is typically accomplished by a collective group of people. Because of it’s size it has more obvious conditions that occur making it easier to study. An example that occurred today happen to be the San Francisco Giant’s World Series Parade which was a spontaneous parade planned for even before the Giants won the Series. San Francisco within a single week went from not knowing the destiny of their team to having a celebratory march down the main street of San Francisco (a much smarter parade route compared to several years ago). It took several very important groups of people for this urban phenomenon to happen. First it was obviously the players need to win in order for this to even happen, then it was up to the planners to organize a parade in a weeks time. The success was predictable with estimates of a million people migrating to San Francisco to see their Team parade down Market Street. Robert Somol, head of University of Chicago Illinois, would give the example of the river turning green during St. Patty’s day attracting people to the river and creating random conversations.

Picnurbia, Vancouver

The small phenomenon is up to the individual to follow their intuition for directions on what they are attracted to. Instead of following a predetermined geographical map based on efficiency, the individual follows a psychogeographic map based on their instincts and senses. If they smell something good it will naturally attract them to something good, and the same goes for the other senses. This spontaneous way of thinking opens up the world for many possibilities.

Both of these cases take the individual out of their daily routines, creating alternate forms of world at which anything can happen.

The idea that the city and it’s streets were not created for people held true during and after the industrial revolution. Hausmann’s Paris which many city planners took influence from, was based on the creation of a grand city meant to show off the nations power and design. They were not designed for the individuals of the city. The same goes for American modern streets which were designed for the automobile and not the pedestrian. Long, straight, and wide streets are found in every city and are easy ways for cars to speed. Studies have shown cars are the number one killer of children, one of whom was killed due to a 17 year old driving 72mph in a 45mph zone trying to make a green light before losing control and killing half a family in an instant.

“The present day [1960s] urbanism’s problem is ensuring the smooth circulation of rapidly increasing number of motor vehicles. A future urbanism may well apply itself to no less utilitarian projects, but in rather different context of psychogeography possibilities.” – Guy Dubord, Critique of Urban Geography


The Labeled Satellite Image


The Un-Labeled Satellite Image

No Label

In several weeks I will be visiting Vancouver, a city known for its progressive urbanism. The city is known for it’s walkability, and while there I hope to try a test of movement through the city. I would not advise this as a condition to practice everyday because I am predetermining a set of constraints by which I will perform the test. The mere fact that I’m planning to stroll through the city is going beyond and against the basic idea of the theory of derive. The individual should not plan for anything to happen because this planning can lead to habit’s forming and boredom patterning. But for me to study the city in this way gives me a different approach to reading the urban fabric, just as cycling gives an alternate view to walking. I’m looking for an alternate form of walking, similar to how if I’m lost cycling I try and ride downhill. The test will occur during one day by which locations to eat are predetermined but everything else between is open to spontaneous decisions. The food locations are scattered across several neighborhoods and may require randomly taking the bus to reach the neighborhood. The in between time will be filled with simple categories that dictate where to go. An example category is the word Green. After eating I want to experience green which could be anything with a large concentration of tree’s, plants, and shrubs by which the individual has a slowed pace. The idea is that after eating a busy relatively fast paced meal (lots of other people eating, interruptive waiter, paying a bill etc) the individual wants to have a slower paced experience in order to digest everything that happened. Green space is a good place for this to happen so I chose green and will wonder my way to the closest park or beach as an experience and repeat the steps for another category.

The two pictures I have of Robson Square in Vancouver contain temporary large objects that are encouraged to create phenomenon within the square. Having a designed object that people can sit on creates a alternate world that takes people out of their everyday life habits. Every year Vancouver hires a firm to design objects to go in Robson Square to encourage public interaction. The past two years the project has been successful with the installment of Pop Rocks (top photo) and Picnurbia (lower photo) in 2012 and 2011 respectively.

The 1960s saw a large revolt in urban development. It wasn’t only the Situationists International that were vocal in the rejection of the modern urban city, although they were the most vocal and organized sending out pamphlets, essays and organizing rally’s. In addition there was the famous Jane Jacobs of New York who was an activist against the creation of freeways, pointing to the fact that they clearly destroy a neighborhood. Jane Jacobs battled against Robert Moses to get a freeway built in her neighborhood, uprooting her community and placing them somewhere else. San Francisco had the Diggers society who were against capitalism and formed a free system of organization of information and products. Lastly Vancouver was very successful in blocking the development of freeways through the city. Thanks to the Professors of Architecture at University of British Columbia Vancouver remains the only large city in North America without a freeway. Not just hippies came out of the 60s and 70s, but also some good urban theory.

Get lost, do the opposite of the normal, and follow your intuitions instead of letting habits dictate your life.

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This entry was posted on October 31, 2012 by in Architecture, Situationists International.


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