Walking Places:
Pedestrian Activity and Spatial Politics

CSCS330 Wednesdays 12 – 2 Cafe A
Instructor: Ken Ehrlich


A walk can exist like an invisible object in a complex world.”
Hamish Fulton

Walter Benjamin famously reflected on the architectural spaces of Paris through the figure of the flaneur, a meandering literary figure who experienced the city as an unfinished text. Drawing on the poetry of Baudelaire and influencing subsequent generations of writers and artists, Benjamin understood walking as a key component in the development of a critical and poetic relationship to the city of the past and the present. With reference to historical and theoretical texts and contemporary art, literature and film, Walking Places explores the space of contemporary landscapes from a pedestrian perspective. Through textual analysis and experiential practice, this class relates walking, the organization of space and cities, ideas about technology and aesthetic practice.

Each week, students will take excursions on foot either individually or in organized class meetings and reflect on these walks in their journals. Journal entries will contextualize these walking exercises in relation to specific course readings, using various historical and theoretical texts as framing devices. A final research project is also required.

Course Goals:

  1. Students will gain familiarity with the disciplines of urbanism, planning and landscape architecture from experiential, historical and theoretical perspectives.

  2. Students will develop an alternative sense of place, re-thinking a variety of environments in southern California through the practice of weekly walks and written reflections.

  3. Students will engage with a wide range of contemporary aesthetic practices that negotiate technological and spatial themes through pedestrian activity.

Course Outcomes:

  1. Students will keep a weekly journal and write critically and creatively on a variety of southern California landscapes.

  2. Students will complete a final research project that reflects on walking as a form of aesthetic experience in specific environment.

Course Outline:

Week one: Introductions. Walking as aesthetic practice and conceptions of space, the body and movement

Week two: Walking in Context

reading: Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (selections) and The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism (selections) by Geoff Nicholson

Week three: The 19th Century City and the Invention of Wilderness

Reading: Walking by Henry David Thoreau, 1862 and The Muir Ramble Route: Walking from San Francisco to Yosemite In the Footsteps of John Muir by Peter and Donna Thomas (with an account of the original 1868 trip by John Muir), Poetic Matrix Press, 2010

Week four: Dada and Surrealist walks

Reading: Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice (selections) by Francesco Careri

Week five: The Flaneur and the Architecture of the Modern City.

Reading: Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire and Paris--Capital of the Nineteenth Century and The Arcades Project (selections) by Walter Benjamin

Week six: On the Dérive and Psychogeography

Reading: "Walking in the City” in The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel DeCerteau and Theory of the Dérive and Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography by Guy Debord

Week seven: The Contemporary Art of Walking: Vito Acconci, Richard Long, Francis Alÿs, Hamish Fulton, Simon Forti, Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Tehching Hsieh and Kim Abeles

Reading: Interview: The Celebrated Walking Blues – Michele Robecchi talks to Francis Alÿs and Richard Long: Statements.

Week eight: The Contemporary Art of Walking continued: Janet Cardiff, Kianga Ford, Christina Kubisch, Helen Mirra, Stanley Brouwn

reading: Soundwalking By Hildegard Westerkamp

Week nine: The Contemporary Suburban Literary Walk

reading: The Poetics of Trespass by Erik Anderson and Occasional Work and 7 Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture by Lisa Robertson

Week ten: Still Walking in the Literary City

reading: Ten Walks/Two Talks by Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch

Week eleven: Walking in and Through Film

reading: Of Walking in Ice: Munich - Paris 23 November - 14 December 1974 by Werner Herzog

screening: Surface Tension by Hollis Frampton and Walking from Munich to Berlin by Oskar Fischinger

Week twelve: Walking Los Angeles

reading: Motor Chorus: Spatializing an Automotive City by Jennifer Gabrys

Week thirteen: March, Pilgrimage, Memorial and Protest: Walking as Political Practice

reading: Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words (selections) by Peace Pilgrim, On Selma to Montgomery March (1965) and Dandi : Salt March

Week fourteen: Walking as Political Practice continued: Eduardo Molinari, Helen Mirra and Joan Southgate

Reading: Archivo Caminante: Constellations and Performativity by Teresa Riccardi

Week fifteen: Student Presentations