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A Call to Flâner, for Spatial Justice

The concept of the flâneur was created in the 19th century in response to the encroaching speed and efficiency of the Industrial Age. Can the flâneur now fashion a political response to the Age of the Automobile?
April 11, 2014, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Franco Folini

Planetizen blogger Steven Snell launches a new column at Fast Forward Weekly with an urbanist think piece that pits the city of the ambling flâneur against the city of the automobile. The article serves as a call for spatial justice.

First Snell exemplifies the flâneur’s politics by describing the tradition of taking a turtle for a walk. “By taking a turtle for a walk, a flâner disassembles the boring, rational use of urban space; the act avoids the intended logic of the city, which is an outcome of a certain ideology and the period’s political practices. The practices of the flâneur soon became translated into the concept of having a ‘right to the city,’ a theory of spatial justice. And theories in turn prescribed novel, concrete practices to take back the city from the oppressive and discriminatory constructions of modernist city planning.”

Contrast that with the legacy of much 20th century planning and development. “Although the automobile was supposed to be the ultimate form of modernity — individualism, the efficiency of point-to-point convenience — it’s led to urban sprawl (along with psychological, environmental and health implications). It’s led to big-box stores, drive-through coffee shops and ATMs, dispersed communities with often ironic names. It’s led to a city designed around its bullish behaviours. The logic of city planning for the single occupancy vehicle has led to oppressive spaces, spatial injustice.”

Snell points to acts of tactical urbanism and collective action as examples that the world is ready for the flâneur to recover the spaces of the city.

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Published on Thursday, April 3, 2014 in Fast Forward Weekly
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