Academic journal article Liminalities

Self and the City: Parkour, Architecture, and the Interstices of the 'Knowable' City

Academic journal article Liminalities

Self and the City: Parkour, Architecture, and the Interstices of the 'Knowable' City

Article excerpt

10:00 am, Saturday, 30 June 2012, 400 Block of Massachusetts Avenue, Indianapolis, IN

It had been just over 5 years since I lived on The Avenue. Having developed as a traceur for around 2 of those years, and being from Indianapolis, I wanted to go back to my old neighborhood to practice parkour. I traveled to a parking garage located on the northwest comer of the 400 block of Massachusetts and Michigan Street. The structure is an eight-story monolith style building constructed of exposed concrete- what architects refer to as the brutalist style. The access ramp is a walkway leading up and through the structure and is closed to the outside but is open to the parking decks inside. The walkway is approximately four feet wide with painted blue railings on either side. The ramp provides access to each parking level in a switchback or zigzag pattern. Along the switchback is a two-foot gap between the parallel concrete barriers that mark the ramp and the parking levels. Although not its intended design, it was evident the gap was mainly used to dispose of waste of all kinds.

I started by side vaulting onto the diagonal barrier enclosing the ramp. From there I ran along the wall similar to a gymnast on a balance beam. Once I came to the start of the next switchback I jumped and grabbed the top of the next wall and climbed up. The exposed concrete was excellent for gripping the walls. It had deep ridges and jagged edges from the pebbles mixed in the concrete. It was cold and felt wet even though it was dry. The grooves in the concrete also provided much needed traction for my feet to push off and give me the momentum to get up and over to the top of the wall. Once on top of the next switchback I decided to jump the four-foot gap between the ramp wall and the parking deck. I planted both feet and jumped the gap. I landed using my hands to grab the top of the parking deck wall and swung my feet directly to the blue handrail. Executing a wall run I climbed to the top. I then ran up the diagonal switchback and repeated the series of moves to complete a parkour run up several floors.

I made my way to the roof and looked over Mass Ave. From the vantage point atop the parking garage I could see most of The Avenue. Mass Ave is billed as a center for arts and culture in Indianapolis, but the question still remains, for whom? The residents on The Avenue come from myriad backgrounds as mixed-income apartments and condominiums populate the district; however, the majority of the people who use the space are largely the White middle class. They come to The Avenue for the entertainment, bars, restaurants, and art galleries.

Until recently the area surrounding Mass Ave is visibly neglected. The apartment buildings and businesses on the adjacent streets of Michigan and Alabama are dilapidated, full of litter, and have obviously not been maintained over the years. These residences and businesses are located within the politically demarcated space of the Arts and Cultural district, yet, have had little or no resources devoted to their renovation. Mass Ave is on a 45-degree angle from the perpendicular Cartesian street grid of Indianapolis. The marketing campaign for Mass Ave advertises the area as 45 degrees from the ordinary. This advertising strategy has a sense of irony as The Avenue's development stands in stark contrast to the surrounding area.

What is so revealing about The Avenue is that when analyzed through its history and economic development it tells a story-a spatial story. The spatial practices giving shape and meaning to Mass Ave produce a representation of power, which becomes encoded in the architecture. Individuals and their use of the space produce meanings of the body, which become encoded in their spatial operations and movements. The raced, sexed, and classed bodies that have the economic means to patronize the businesses on The Avenue take on different meaning, as they become juxtaposed 45 degrees from the ordinary. …

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