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The Rhetoric of Mobility
Katie Kurtz, 3 Nov 06
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With so much attention given to the size and reach of our carbon footprints, it's easy to forget that somewhere in there we live complex lives that inscribe more than waste in our wake. In the Seventies, French academic Michel de Certeau's essay "Walking in the City" proposed that city dwellers compose a "rhetoric of walking" as they go about their daily lives. Institutions (or "strategies") regulate our movement with streets, paths, and laws. Countering that are the "practices" employed by individuals – shortcuts, roundabout paths, meanderings – that define and individualize our presence within these spaces. De Certeau couldn't have anticipated how advances in technology would allow for previously private moments to occur in public – receiving news of a birth via BlackBerry while on the subway, getting stood up over text message on your way to the restaurant, arguing with your loved one on the phone while standing at the corner of Somewhere and On Your Way. Our travel creates narratives and our cities are invisibly marked with unseen poems and lyric fragments that tell countless tales of love, loss and everything in between.

The Toronto-based murmur project brings those stories into the landscape with audio walking tours of Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and San Jose, CA. Giant green ears placed on telephone poles throughout the city have phone numbers you can call to hear a personal or historical story about the site. According to Toronto-based organization's website, these stories are told in "the intimate, neighbourhood-level voices that tell the day-to-day stories that make up a city" or, as De Certeau wrote in his introduction to The Practice of Everyday Life, these stories are of the "…common hero, an ubiquitous character, walking in countless thousands on the streets."

Alternately, there are the hidden stories of environmental degradation so embedded in our landscape as to be rendered invisible. Interstate-5 (known as "I-5" in Washington and "The 5" in California) runs for 1,375 miles from Blaine, WA at the Canadian border to San Diego, CA at the Mexican border. Along this route are the very visible polluting active and inactive facilities such as nuclear reactors, massive cow farms, and Superfund sites. Invisible-5, a self-guided driving audio tour between San Francisco and Los Angeles, highlights specific points along the way that aren't so readily apparent. Billing itself as "critical tourism," the tracks on the 2-CD set are narrated by individuals actively working to raise awareness about environmental injustices occurring in their communities. The narrators are all incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the facilities in their neighborhoods and their environmental impact over time. Although it's easy to despair while hearing about babies born without brains, high cancer rates, and sickened children, these activist accounts skew more toward hopeful than hopeless.

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Walking is a relief: it is outside a car or bike. Yes even the bike is mechanistic. Walking is hard work. It happens when other things fail. Bus strike, train late. Walking is the only way to notice things the first time. In fact, walking is the "first time".

Posted by: Marmot on 7 Nov 06



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