Sensing the city; artists, embodiment and urban space #3

This is third post from the Sensing the City Salon is based on Sara Wookey’s presentation. Sara presented a series of works she undertook whilst living in Los Angeles between 2010 and 2014. A core theme was walking, which people experience very differently in LA, a city designed for the car and its driver. She had recently moved from Amsterdam a very different city, excellent for walkers and cyclists. Sara was commissioned by the municipality and also noted urbanist Edward Soja during this period.

I was particularly interested in her walking practices and her use of what known in dance practice as  ‘pedestrian movement’ and how these expand perceptions of how people occupy and move around urban space.

Sara described one work ‘Being Pedestrian’, a collaboration with visual artist Sara Daleiden which was about encouraging people to walk in Los Angeles, via tours, walking workshops with community groups and included a pamphlet publication which helped people ‘warm-up’ for being a pedestrian, which included asking people to become more bodily aware in order to venture out into the city.

Sara Wookey #1

I was particularly interested in a performance workshop project which linked directly to how LA had been designed, such as the particularly tricky ‘mid-block’ crossing. Which revealed the issues pedestrians have crossing certain junctions, by performing on masse, across and around the junction.

One of my recent projects has included working with a community group in Wigan, who are thinking about how one of their public spaces has been designed. As part of the workshop we identified a range of urban design issues relating to access and connections to, from and through their community green. We discussed urban design terms such as ‘permeability’, or how easy a space is to move through and around, we asked – is this a walkable space?

Sara’s work connects strongly to such UK urban design questions, especially in terms of finding creative and engaging ways to enable community groups to understand in depth why their neighbourhood has been designed and laid out as it has. I believe that by working with community groups in such engaging ways, they will develop more agency, enabling them to engage more fully with planners, the planning system and developers in the ongoing regeneration of our urban spaces.

About waymarkingthesketchbook

Sarah Spanton is director of arts organisation Waymarking - www.waymarking.org.uk
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