Academic journal article New Formations

Step by Step: Everyday Walks in a French Urban Housing Project

Academic journal article New Formations

Step by Step: Everyday Walks in a French Urban Housing Project

Article excerpt

Jean-Francois Augoyard, Step by Step: Everyday Walks in a French Urban Housing Project, translated by David Ames Curtis, Minneapolis and London, University of Minnesota Press, 2007; 281pp, £14, paperback

Jean-Francois Augoyard's findings in Step by Step (which was originally published in France in 1979) are based on interviews with residents of die Arlequin, a high-density neighbourhood constructed in Grenoble, France, between 1969 and 1972. He asked his respondents to recount dieir daily strolls in the neighbourhood, and his analysis of their narratives demonstrates diat seemingly insignificant practices of everyday life can shake up the spatial permanences of a planned environment and can creatively undermine an urban space that seems to reject such innovation. As a result of their ambulation - what he terms a walking-writing - the inhabitants are able to configure and reconfigure their environment, and can never be entirely coopted by the commercial economy. His study of everyday walks indicates that there is greater dynamic tension in the humblest acts of walking and inhabiting than is allowed for in the prescriptions of urban planning.

Augoyard writes with the detachment of the social scientist, and yet the subject matter is clearly of considerable personal interest to him: he lived in the Arlequin neighbourhood for a number of years, and thus his analysis is imbued with nuanced participant observation. What is remarkable about this first English edition of the book, translated by David Ames Curtis, is how thematically pertinent it remains in the context of contemporary urban planning, where as Augoyard observes, 'the concrete is steeped in ideology as well as in economics' (pi 66), and where houses are often designed as items of trade and commerce, as places in which to 'house people', rather than as places to actually inhabit. …

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