Art Gracing Our Cities

“A highly developed art of urban design is linked to the creation of a critical and attentive audience.  If art and audience grow together, then our cities will be a source of daily enjoyment to millions of their inhabitants.”  –Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City, 1960

As I bicycle and walk around our city, I enjoy paying attention to the landscape.  Here are some photos I took of murals and other art created by the city’s inhabitants.  Most of these pictures are from Albuquerque, and a few are from other towns in New Mexico.  I’ve pulled out some quotes from readings that I’ve been thinking about as I look around.

“At the heart of successful human navigation is a capacity to record the past, attend to the present, and imagine the future–a goal or place that we would like to reach.” –M.R. O’Conner, Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World, 2019

“Your initial goal, unrealistic or mistaken though it may be, encourages you to make an effort in your practice.  The practice becomes easier, less stressful, less painful.  You develop a deeper appreciation for it.  The goal becomes doing the practice every day.”  –Norman Fischer, Our Grand Delusion, in the Sun Magazine August 2018

“Slow streets, overnight, transformed our family life and the lives of our neighbors. We had struggled to find a place to teach our daughter to ride her bike up until this point. It always seemed like such a production. Easier to just scoot along the sidewalk and put it off. But the minute the streets opened up, we got our helmets on and headed out. About an hour later, we had a bike rider on our hands. I’ve heard similar stories from so many parents across Oakland. The only thing that may be as reliable as toilet paper selling out during this strange era is kids learning to ride bikes.”  –Courtney E. Martin, “Slow streets are the path to a better city“, Curbed, 5.19.2020

“We can easily afford to conserve what we’ve been given and to wait patiently for a wisdom that so far has eluded us, a wisdom that will enable us to convey this gift, not simply consume it.” –Barry Lopez, Testimony, 1996

“Or maybe wayfinding is an activity that confronts us with the marvelous fact of being in the world, requiring us to look up and take notice, to cognitively and emotionally interact with our surroundings whether we are in the wilderness or a city, even calling us to renew our species’ love affair with freedom, exploration, and place.”–M.R. O’Connor, Wayfinding: The science and mystery of how humans navigate the world

“In The Need for Roots, the French philosopher Simone Weil claimed that ‘to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.’…Weil defined rootedness in an interesting way, not as lineage or birthplace but as participation in the life of a community that preserves ‘certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future'”.  –O’Connor, Wayfinding

“We move in space through constant contact with the contours of our environment.  We are in touch with our world at a visceral level, and it is the quality of our ‘being in touch’ that importantly defines what our world is like and who we are.” –Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, 2007

“Through his studies of automobile drivers and airplane pilots, [James] Gibson came to the conclusion that perception and behavior are a single biological phenomenon, and both humans and animals directly perceive their environment in an act of knowing or being in contact with it.  We are not minds stuck in bodies but organisms that are part of our environment.  Gibson called his theory ecological psychology and it led to a new understanding of navigation.”  –O’Connor, Wayfinding

“History especially is illuminating, because where we are today is a product of ideas that we’ve inherited often from hundreds of years ago.  So you dig back into the origins of these ideas and it helps illuminate why we have the habits of thought today which might not be adjusted to current experience.”  –Elizabeth Anderson, MacArthur Fellow, Class of 2019

A few terms defined:

Vernacular–built by necessity, local, temporary, not necessarily fashionable, improvised.  Examples of the vernacular in downtown Reno can be seen in watching the people live in the street.  Skateboarders improvising transportation routes through corriders built for automobiles and walking pedestrians.

Establishment–much of the vernacular arises around the establishment’s landscape, but uses it in a way that is was not intended for.  The establishment represents law, order, property, rules, architecture.  It’s carefully thought out by planners with certain motives in mind.  Much of the built environment in downtown is representative of what the establishment were thinking, what their tastes are, what their education and expertise is emphasizing.  –my Geography 314: Cultural, field methods journal, 2001

1 thought on “Art Gracing Our Cities

  1. Richard Knottenbelt

    What a wonderful collection of images whaich ask to be seen LIVE, and deep text which continues to call us to the here and now, which include the “past” and “future! Thanks Yogi!



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