Walking Places Symposium Report by Anita Strasser

My new year started with the Walking Places Symposium in Lisbon, Portugal which was hosted by DINÂMIA’CET-IUL – the Centre for Socio-economic and Territorial Studies at the University Institute Lisbon – and organised by myself and Carla Duarte, a PhD researcher at DINÂMIA. The event was held at the Centre for Urban Information of Lisbon – Centro de Informação Urbana de Lisboa (CIUL) – and kindly supported by CUCR. The full programme.

We had a very diverse and international audience with people travelling from the UK, Scandinavia and from across Portugal. The aim of the symposium was to explore walking as a research practice, discussing some of the conceptual, practical and embodied aspects of walking. It brought together a diverse selection of themes and projects that considered walking as a philosophical study and its impact on human life, as a methodological and pedagogical tool that helps us make sense of our environment, as an embodied practice that helps us understand the world through our bodies, as an art practice and as an element of town planning and community care. As such, it brought together Portuguese and UK academics and practitioners from a range of backgrounds such as Sociology, Architecture and Urban Planning, Community Policing, Art – in particular Photography, Education and Psychology. The symposium ran over two days, leaving enough time for questions and answers, interesting discussions, an urban walk down the old access road to the city centre, and for gustatory and musical delights.

After introductions by myself, Carla and Dr Paula André– Assistant Professor of the Department of Architecture and Urbanism at ISCTE-IUL and researcher at DINÂMIA’CET-IUL, we started the day with a fascinating keynote by Dr Alex Rhys-Taylor(Senior Lecturer and Researcher at CUCR, Goldsmiths), which looked at the relationship between walking, the rhythms of urban life, and social research. He argued that, in most cities, a significant slice of everyday life still unfolds at the speed of walking and that the speed and rhythm of discursive consciousness is also closely related to pedestrian rhythms. The talk and the subsequent discussion also revealed that with our current pace of life and constant technological inventions designed to get us places faster without walking, it is difficult to keep a healthy rhythm of urban life.

 

After a short break, Carla Duarte, an architect and employee at Lisbon City Council, took us on a journey down the Valverde Way – a road that was once Lisbon’s main access road, connecting Rossio in the city centre to São Sebastião da Pedreira up north – and how the landscape of this road has developed over the years. Walking this road is part of Carla’s PhD research and the following day she offered a guided walk of this road to conference attendees. Her talk was followed by Dr Sérgio Barreiros Proença, Assistant Professor of Urbanism at the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Lisbon, who uses walking as a pedagogical tool to stimulate artistic creations and architectural compositions. He provided an overview of a module he teaches in the first year of study that uses walking and photography as a way of getting to know the city in which the students are studying. The panel finished with Dr Emma Jackson’s(Senior Lecturer in the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths and CUCR) call for an alternative agenda for thinking and writing about walking in the city from a situated and feminist perspective that better recognizes the situated body of the walker. This talk attracted women from diverse backgrounds and from a walking collective that is concerned about the inequalities experienced by female pedestrians. The surprise expressed by a male PhD researcher (whose research focuses on walking) that this was still an issue in Western Europe caused quite a response, and Emma’s call for feminist writings on walking gained a lot of support.

The final panel of the day concentrated on walking as an artistic practice. Luísa Salvador, a PhD candidate in Contemporary Art History at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of NOVA University of Lisbon, provided an overview of the interaction between Art and Landscape and how they connect with walking, examining the works of Vito Acconci, Hamish Fulton, Richard Long and Francis Alys. This was followed by my reading of an ethnographic piece that describes how my own experience of mountaineering, as part of a visual ethnography of a small mountain range in the Austrian and Bavarian Alps, is intermingled with the stories and memories of the people that live and work in this mountain range. It’s about the embodied practice of mountain research through a landscape of mountains, memories, physical struggles and emotions.

The final talk of the day was given by Jennifer Roberts, photographer, member of the Crossing Lines Group at CUCR and former Psychotherapist, who draws parallels between her work as a psychotherapist and as a photographer. Applying a phenomenological, sensory approach to her photographic practice resonates with her experience of using Gestalt therapy, focusing on the present and trying to understand the relationship to our immediate surroundings.

We finished the evening with a Portuguese dinner with some of our speakers.

The next day we went back to CIUL for the morning to hear two more presentations. The first talk was given by Dr David S. Vale, Assistant Professor at the Lisbon School of Architecture, whose research focuses on the integration of land use and transportation, and the integration of different transport modes. His fascinating insights into the concept of complementary walking, the walking necessary when accessing other travel modes, led to some interesting discussions around urban planning and public spaces, as well as mobility and disability. David argued that the notion of pedestrian accessibility and the walkability of cities, particularly Lisbon, is not really understood or translated into the built environment. This was followed by Mónica Diniz, Head of Prevention, Security and International Relations of the Lisbon Municipal Police with a professional background in the area of youth risk behaviours and drug use prevention programmes. She spoke of the need to build safer communities through effective and trustful relationships between police and citizens, which are built up through daily on-foot patrols, through walking the streets and listening to people’s problems and acting upon them.  This led to questions regarding the democratic involvement of marginalised communities in decisions involving their neighbourhoods.

After lunch and coffee outdoors, we embarked on a 3-hour urban walk down the Valverde Way, guided by Carla, whose expert knowledge about this road’s history and architecture was fascinating to listen to. It is the old (Roman) road that used to go down the valley to connect what is now the north of the city but used to be a village with the city centre. The architecture of small, low buildings that used to be workers’ houses lines this narrow, mostly cobbled road. Unlike Paris, where the Haussmann project destroyed most of historic Paris in the 19thcentury, the historic streets of Lisbon survived the urbanisation of the 19thCentury and instead, a big boulevard was built parallel to the old Valverde Way and on different levels. This has created a multi-layered city with various architectural styles and heights on numerous levels, creating a patchwork of historic and modern streetscapes.

After the walk, we had some coffee and Pastel de Nata, and in the evening some of us went to a family-run restaurant which had excellent food and Fado, a type of Portuguese singing, with songs sung and played by the waiter, the chef and friends. It was a great ending to an enjoyable couple of days. We received excellent feedback from speakers and members of the audience, as well as from our hosts, and there seems to be an appetite for similar events in the future. Thanks again to DINÂMIA’CET,CIULand CUCRfor making this symposium possible.

 

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Graffiti found on my last day in Lisbon, the day after the conference. What a fitting ending!

Carla Duarte is an architect working at Lisbon City Council on urban analysis and data management projects. Carla obtained a degree in Architecture and Urban and Territorial Planning at the Faculty of Architecture, University of Lisbon, and is currently doing a PhD at ISCTE-IUL (University Institute of Lisbon), focusing her research on the importance of walking in the city.  carla.duarte21@gmail.com

Anita Strasser is a PhD candidate in Visual Sociology at Goldsmiths, creatively exploring the impact of the gentrification of Deptford on the local working-class population. More about her research here: https://deptfordischanging.wordpress.com/ Anita is also co-organiser of the annual  Engaging in Urban Image-making symposium hosted by CUCR.

 

All images by Anita Strasser

 

 

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