To begin with I didn’t know how to walk. I was able to learn to balance (with parental help). I was able to navigate the world on two feet. To engage in a series of tiny falls. The consequences of misjudged falls change. They grow with us.
London is designed for a particular type of body. A body able to rush up and down stairs, swoop on to trains in rush hour crowds, push back against other bodies as they pile into spaces already full to the brim. In one step we can feel how our mobility changes. A few steps more and we can see how cities are designed for a specific type of mobility.
In London, Alisa and I began by walking to The Street. This is not, however, the street of Jane Jacobs, a messy entanglement of urban experience; rather it was the corporate street of Westfields Stratford City, Europe’s largest mall. This simulacrum of the street is a space of global consumption. New York’s Shake Shack pushing up against London’s Levi Roots in an Australian development designed for maximum consumption. A legacy of the Olympic Games, it is the commercial centrepiece of the redevelopment of London’s East End. Exit Through the Gift Shop writ large.
As we passed the Manhattan Loft Gardens, the hulking residential tower emerging behind Westfield, our thoughts turned to our compatriots in New York City, who had been Radically Walking the day prior. Alisa and I discussed the subtle blur of public and private space in London. Coming from Moscow, she is accustomed to a more aggressive policing of public space. My experience in Manhattan was similar. In contrast, the constant surveillance of Stratford and the Olympic Park is less in your face. Though we were always on camera, enmeshed in the panopticon, we were hardly aware of it.
Our walk ended in the Olympic Park, where we encountered public spaces closed for private functions. A long walk from the Marshland Gareth Rees describes, or the Grime battles of yesteryear. Instead we were treated to the corporate space of London’s Olympicopolis, where we were as likely to see ‘a banker or trader going to their job in the City and another heading off to their workshop in Shoreditch.’
Green’s score asks how the steps we’ve ‘taken together have altered the text of the site’; ultimately, we decided they hadn’t. Our walk was not an active intervention in public space. We were wandersmanner writing the thicks and thins of an urban text in which we barely intervened. Perhaps I am not giving us enough credit and our subtle intervention had an impact of which I am unaware. Perhaps our very presence questioning corporate space will make some difference. I, however, am not so sure.
In February I walked in circles around the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This week I walked there in a straight line, transecting East London on a journey through my usual stomping grounds.
I took pictures every five minutes facing north.
And every five minutes facing south.
To truly engage in transecting, the route will have to be ‘walked regularly’. This is only one of five starting points. More transecting awaits.