Walking is a subversive activity. In his book Psychogeography, Merlin Coverley writes of ‘the democratic importance of the street-level perspective to be gained from walking the city and reconnecting with individual life’ – in contrast with the omniscient architect or planner viewing from above, the walker sees the totality from the street, ‘restoring the primacy of the street’.
Being an urban explorer depends on a willingness to trust strangers, which is the most political of issues, the foundation of democracy. This is a point made by essayist Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust, who writes, ‘Citizenship is predicated on the sense of having something in common with strangers, just as democracy is built upon trust in strangers.’
Lauren Elkin, author of Flaneuse, writes at length on Virginia Woolf’s love of walking as way to observe the street life of London. In the essay ‘Street Haunting’, Woolf’s ‘urban observer is “a central oyster of perceptiveness”; not a miner nor a diver nor anything with a brain, even – just “an enormous eye”, carried downstream by the city.’
A sense of place is what distinguishes a ‘street’ from a ‘road’, according to the Manual for Streets, a document of guidance for street design produced jointly by the English and Welsh governments and published in 2007. Visual appeal and distinctive local character are part of this sense of place, but as important is the fostering of social activity and the needs of street ‘users’. When urban planning began to develop as a discipline in the first half of the 20th century, car ownership was in the ascendancy, and the ‘road design hierarchy’ focused predominantly on the movement of vehicles, not pedestrians. The Manual for Streets widened the focus to walkers and inclusive design, and the Covid pandemic has potentially taken that approach further, with more walkers and cyclists in view, expanding our understanding of ‘street users’.
Walking is not strolling. Walking, Elkin says, is mapping with your feet. But it’s mapping for discovery, not for way-finding. One’s sense of, and relationship to, place is not found by following a map.
Bledsoe’s Walkabout bags are perfect for the urban explorer, the flaneur/flaneuse, the psychogeographer. Zippered cross-body bags, large enough for essentials, with inside pocket for card. And with a free matching fabric face mask! All handmade at Couture Collective, 659 Fulham Road, London SW6. Do stop by and see us, or contact us to let us know what you’d like.