Musings of a Flâneur

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From: From Louis Huart, Physiologie du flâneur (1841)

The transformation of space is always on my mind as I wander about urban neighborhoods. As I wander I try to be cognoscente of the inherent art and narrative of the space through which I move. The assumption that space = art + narrative raises all sorts of questions , at least in my mind, that need to be considered. First, to be clear in how I am using the word “space,” let’s define space as that physical reality in which you and I function

For instance, how is space inherently art, assuming that it is? And if we make that assumption, how do we define art that inherent to space? More to the point, how do we go about discovering it? Of course, that question suggests that the art that is inherent to space is not obvious (at least to our normal way of perceiving art). How does inherent art function to transform space into place? How does “imposed art,” i.e., public art, enhance, or detract from, the art inherent in space? What is the role – is there a role? – of imposed art in the evolution of space into place? How can – or cannot – imposed art meld with the art inherent to space?

Does space have an inherent narrative? If there is one, how is it to be discovered? If, assuming our assumption about inherent art is true, space is art, is spatial art the narrative, that is does it give rise to the narrative? Or does the narrative give rise to the inherent art? How does the narrative (assuming that space has an inherent narrative) effect the change of space into place?

How is space inherently political, both in the sense of politics and polis? The intrinsic question here is a question of “ownership,” and thus control. I, for example, “own” my space as I walk about, yet I often trespass into the space of others, and that space and my space, at least in my use of it, is controlled to some extent by society, culture, politics, and law. (Should it be so?) With this example in mind then, how does the inherent political nature of space enhance, or impede, the transformation of space into place? What happens to the political nature of space when it becomes place?

Philosophically, psychologically, sociologically, when does space become place? What is place? (How we define both space and place are crucial.) Are behaviors (movements) inherent to /in space? Do behaviors transform space into place? Will lack of behaviors devolve place into space? Perhaps a better way to ask these two questions is not to use the word “transform,” but rather ask does the behaviors inherent to space carry over into place (or place into space)? If so, how? On a broader scale, we must ask, how does space evolve into place? How does place evolve? How does place devolve? Can space devolve? Is there an inherent cycle of evolution and devolution ? What is the process? Philosophical questions, yes, but ones crucial to our understanding of how place functions, and to our ability to create dynamic places, neighborhoods, and communities. No discipline is left out of the equation. For example, good education depends upon a good social structure within the neighborhood, and conversely, a good neighborhood social structure depends upon a strong educational system.

Does space exist apart from scientific discovery? For example, is there an inherent map in space for the cartographer to discover, or does the cartographer impose a map upon space, creating in a sense, a place? Does a map, when discovered , or imposed, limit the sense of place, i.e., create artificial boundaries? Does a map manage space, or does space manage the map. Given that we each enter the same space differently, is there more than one map, and if so, can those maps be something other than what a cartographer would create?

What is the role of architecture, urban planning, development, education, etc. – all the disciplines – in the transformation of space into place? Is there, for example, an inherent architectural design to space? If so, how do the architectural/planning disciplines discover and utilize it? How does the misuse of the inherent spatial design of space destroy place, or the proper use of, enhance place. We can ask the same of any discipline that has a stake in creating strong dynamic urban neighborhoods and social structures.

Within every neighborhood there is the hidden, a hidden narrative, unseen even by the residents, from which the neighborhood takes its character, its behaviors, its movements, and its evolution (or devolution).

The musings of a Flâneur
– Frank A. Mills

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The transformation of space is always on my mind as I wander about urban neighborhoods. As I wander I try to be cognoscente of the inherent art and narrative of the space through which I move. The assumption that space = art + narrative raises all sorts of questions ,... Read more

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