Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Space and Place: Walking through Kamloops

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Space and Place: Walking through Kamloops

Article excerpt

Using philosophy and social theory, this essay examines walking as a privileged means of revealing the physical and social environment of a small city. My regular walk from downtown Kamloops, British Columbia, to Thompson Rivers University frames an exploration of the social, historical, and bodily construction of "space" and "place."

We all have some idea of what it means to have a "sense of place": it is an idea of what and who "belongs" to a certain place, of some noteworthy features of the place, or the location of that place relative to its surroundings or relative to other places. In the same way, we have a rough idea of what "space" is, if only because we live and move in space, and our very bodies are spatial, having not only size and dimension, but also an orientation (left, right, up, down, forward, back). In this essay, I explore my experiences of walking through a particular small city--Kamloops, in British Columbia, Canada--to illuminate how space and place are revealed through walking. Walking unfolds and reveals space at a different pace and with a different rhythm from driving in a car, riding in a bus or flying over in a plane. There are no barriers between the walker and the surrounding world, no elaborate technique to be mindful of as the walker places one foot in front of another. The body and senses of the walker enter into an intimate proximity with the environment not achievable through other modes of transport. The walker is more apt to notice details that escape the glance of the driver hurtling by or the bus-rider engrossed in her book, more able to actually feel the contours and textures of the landscape, more exposed to the scents and smells of automobile fumes and vegetation, more attuned to the play of light and shadow, heat and cold, which are as much felt on the skin as seen by the eyes. "A walker does not skip over much, sees things close up, and makes herself vulnerable and accessible to local people and places" (Solnit 128).

Walking is then perhaps a privileged mode of encountering space and place, as the walker is a part of the very fabric of the space being traversed, exposed to the natural and social forces it contains and revealing those forces through the body's reactions to them: "there is a sense of place that can only be gained on foot" (Solnit 9). Walking is an act that reveals different aspects of an object in much the way that, Merleau-Ponty says, the body's senses and capacities for movement and action reveal different aspects of the material world we inhabit (98-153, 243-98). It is the active engagement of the body in the world, not merely passive spectatorship but rather, as Rebecca Solnit argues, making and working, a way of "knowing the world through the body and the body through the world" (29). Walking can become "an investigation, a ritual, a meditation" (Solnit 3), the mode of investigation par excellence of what Guy Debord calls "psychogeography," "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals," because of the way walking reveals the ambience of a street or neighbourhood (5).

What is space? On the face of it, it is simply the dimensions of width, height, depth: the traditional "three dimensions" we use in measuring a room or a piece of furniture. In this conception, space is quantitative: it is measurable, whether in inches and miles, or in centimetres and light years. What makes space measurable is that it is single, uniform, and homogeneous. Every region of space is continuous with other regions (there are no gaps in space), every space, as space, is just like any other space (all space is "empty," and lacks any differentiating qualities), and every region of space can be measured in the same way, whether we are talking about a living room or a galaxy. Such space is symmetrical and reversible: the distance between two points is the same in both directions. …

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