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Urban Design

The Act of Being a Pedestrian

9:47 AM PST on February 8, 2011

It always amazes me how artists can capture new ways of walking in the existing built environment.  The boring streets of South Park became a world of physical and sensual discovery through Being Pedestrian facilitated by Sara Wooky and Sara Daleiden last Saturday.

I also re-learned how to be a pedestrian by simply completing some warm up exercises for feet, hands, eyes and body.  The group learned walking etiquette such as passing oncoming pedestrians, crossing streets, and examining buildings.

As a transportation planner, I know we sometimes fail to discuss the experience of mobility. Mobility is always a number, time, destination, or formula. Yet mobility is a physical experience that we see, hear, tour and even feel.

This human experience is too often lacking in transportation planning today. That must be why it can be an unfulfilling experience.

Being Pedestrian taught us how our body experiences mobility as a physical action.

By walking backwards on a familiar street my world was turned upside down.  With the help of a partner who guided me through this process, every step became a conscientious movement. It felt like walking into oblivion as small cracks became big cracks and the slightest grade changes were jarring.

Muscles in my feet and calves I never feel were suddenly awoken.  What was front was back. It was like sitting on the bus facing back only I was walking.

Then, like children, we were taught how to cross the street by looking both ways, which I do not do every time I step into traffic with the signal. And like child’s play we tasked to match our feet to the stamped brick pattern on the crosswalk only to find out the time allotted for pedestrian crossing is woefully inadequate.

Shoulder to shoulder we took on the intersection of Figueroa and Olympic.  In unison we were to cross Figueroa on the wide crosswalk.  As the line of fifteen people crossed to the other side of street we discover the sidewalk was a fifth of the width of the crosswalk and could not accommodate all of use in a line.

Next we learned how to examine the height of a building from looking at it straight on. Our eyes traveled in a straight line from our feet up the wall eleven floors.

With a friendly hand salute to cars first left and than right we learned how cross street as friendly yet noticeable pedestrians.

After the invigorating walk we regrouped in the park for refreshments and a post-walk mapping and discussion exercise to share our pedestrian experiences.

Personally, I felt as if I had just completed a ballet on the streets and sidewalks of South Park. I become aware of my body as physical being embracing the space by using my senses rather than a predetermined set of movements that takes into account only the familiar.

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