Sidewalks don’t go a lot of the places we’d like to walk. So people do what people have always done: cut through empty lots… or woods… or across railways. A lot of these pathways, worn down by use, never seem to make it onto maps. The GLRC’s Jennifer Guerra reports one group thinks they ought to be mapped… and their stories told:
Sidewalks don’t go a lot of the places we’d like to walk. So people do
what people have always done: cut through empty lots… or woods… or
across railways. A lot of these pathways, worn down by use, never
seems to make it onto maps. The GLRC’s Jennifer Guerra reports one
group thinks they ought to be mapped… and their stories told:
When Hilary Ramsden moved to Detroit from England, she thought the
best way to explore the city was to bike it.
“And I was run off road by cars, and people shouted and screamed at me.
So I decided to cycle on sidewalk but then I noticed sidewalks came to
end, and started singing little paths.”
Ramsden points to a little ribbon of dirt that run thru a neighbor’s yard
or cut through a vacant lot…
“And I noticed there was a whole network of these paths through the
city. So I started exploring them!”
Soon Ramsden’s co-worker, Erika Block, starts tagging along on the
walks, and since none of the trials they want to take are listed on any
maps, the two just start wandering:
“And then we started thinking about mapping and what’s really
represented on traditional maps and what’s missing.”
Block thinks of maps as a kind of storytelling. So if the short cuts and
gravel paths that people take aren’t listed on a map, then the stories of the
people who use them aren’t being told. So Block and Ramsden – who
run a theatre company in the city – decided to turn their walks into a performance
art piece of sorts. It’s called The Walking Project.
Once a week they pick out a section of Detroit and walk it. To track their
route, they use a handheld Global Positioning System device. They also
bring along digital cameras to snap pictures and record conversations
they have with people. Eventually, the photos, recordings and GPS tracks will
all be uploaded to a computer and transformed into a sort of 3-D digital map.
“And so a representation of place is going to be more than just lines and
dots and symbols on a map, it hopefully will become the video, and audio, and drawings
and conversations that people bring to it.”
And that’s really what these walks are about for Hilary Ramsden…
“…oh look at path here…this is a great shortcut. Is there a story here?
Tons of stories here, but no one walking here to ask at the moment. I’d
be interested in talking to someone.”
About twenty minutes into the walk, we cut across a gravelly path that
runs through a small field. There, we run into a homeless man. The
minute Block and Ramsden say hello, the man starts talking. About
himself, about the path and about the field we’re standing in…
(Sound of talking)
Block and Ramsden snap pictures and record everything he’s saying.
Their hope is to one day have it all linked to a virtual map that places this
man and his image on this particular Detroit dirt path, and because Block
recorded their conversation, his story will become a part of the map, too:
“People will ultimately be able to drag and drop images to build their own maps
of these places that tell different stories. And I think people are fascinated by
other people’s stories, and I think that ultimately the more we know of other
people’s stories the less afraid we become and the more comfortable it becomes.”
Block admits that the technology for creating such a map is at least two
years off. But in the meantime, she and Ramsdon will continue to walk
around and record the stories of those who choose to travel off the beaten
path. In hopes that maybe one day they’ll have a map to call their own.
For the GLRC, I’m Jennifer Guerra.