BY-NC-ND 3.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter April 6, 2016

Walking in the city: A case study of the streets in Brno

Jana Kočková
From the journal Human Affairs

Abstract

This paper is an ethnographic study of everyday walking practice in the city. The research was conducted in 2014-2015 in selected streets of Brno city and was based on a hybrid method of shared walking (go-along) coupled with observations and semi-structured interviews. As urban walking is recognized as a significant mode of travel, this paper aims to expand existing knowledge by contributing qualitative data. The key influence is the work of Michel de Certeau (1984) who understands walking as a practice of everyday life. Everyday walking helps shape physical spaces and this subsequently affects human behavior. In this article I will discuss how people relate to walking, how they act in urban space and what importance they attach to their behavior. Another aim is to ascertain how pedestrians behave while performing their everyday routine and how they interact with drivers and cyclists.

Introduction

This paper explores everyday walking and the experiences of pedestrians in public spaces in cities. From the sociological point of view, walking constitutes a significant phenomenon as it is inherently connected with unproblematic everyday behavior that actively shapes the city space. Walking is of course important in terms of urban mobility; however, it seems to be ignored in academic debate and urban planning policies. However, it seems to be omitted from the academic discourse as well as from urban planning policies. In spite of the claim that walking is a recommended and sustainable mode of mobility, the layout and conditions for walking in the city of Brno are frequently not ideal.

This article aims to provide a detailed description of the pedestrian experience from the phenomenological perspective. Instead of regarding space as a container for people and objects, I consider it to be a significant factor that has an effect on human behavior and mobility. It is through their everyday movements that people exert an influence on urban areas. By examining people’s everyday movements it may be possible to grasp the nature and meaning of their behavior and experiences. In this article the primary focus is on the interactions between pedestrians and other road users. Furthermore, it discusses the way pedestrians negotiate their space on the streets and whether they seek to improve pedestrian infrastructure and claim their right to the city as pedestrians.

The research approach adopted is an ethnographic study of a selected locality in Brno. Ethnographic study is a means by which a large amount of information can be obtained on the everyday lives of people, and it can also reveal the characteristic features of pedestrians that can be generalized to a certain degree and thus be considered typical of city streets. The key method used in my research was the go-along method, described by Kusenbach (2003) as a hybrid method between participant observation and interviewing. The go-along method has the advantage of disentangling the significance of a place or space in everyday lived experience.

Theoretical background

A review of the literature available on the subject shows that the majority of studies performed on walking are conducted in the US and that the European research in this field is limited. This may be because the historical structure of European cities is more suitable for pedestrians than that in US cities (Frumkin, 2002). Studies on walking that have been conducted in Europe have focused more on technical solutions relating to public places and on regional planning. Studies on walking often tackle the impact of the physical environment on the walkability of an area and focus on finding solutions to improve walkability. These studies demonstrate that urban structures have an influence on the level of physical activity in an area. However, we should not consider mobility solely in relation to the physical infrastructure of the city. There is a lack of research addressing the cultural as well as the sociological points of view on walking in the city. Such studies could be of use, since social ties exert an influence on preferred modes of transport (Brown & Shortell, 2014).

The relevance of a place is based on its morphological characteristics, as well as on the movements happening inside it. Everyday mobility affects the shape of the place and is of importance for pedestrians as well. The walking experience helps form a relationship between people and places. Therefore, by learning about the everyday walking experience we can acquire information not only on the city and its space, but also on the pedestrians themselves, along with their perceptions, emotions and lifestyles (Hyler, 2013). The research on walking has been fundamentally influenced by the work of Michel de Certeau, who understands walking as a practice of everyday life. Although sociologists are aware of the significance of walking in terms of social functioning and its value as a research method, as Certeau points out, this phenomenon does not receive adequate attention in the academic world (Brown & Shortell, 2014). According to Certeau, the most useful approach to studying walking is through everydayness, since this provides us with information on the routes people take as well as on the nature of their actions, i.e. the behavior/movements of pedestrians that help make the city. The act of walking shapes the space both physically and also imaginatively (Certeau, 1984).

Certeau draws a parallel between speech and walking, in which walking is the spatial acting-out of the place in much the same way speech is the expression of language. Pedestrians move around the streets guided by the rules of spatial order in much the same way as language has a grammar. The written or unwritten spatial order provides pedestrians with a summary of the options, of the routes they can or cannot take because of the rules or physical barriers. Pedestrians update the options and invent new ways, improvise and create new opportunities, invent shortcuts, transforming the spatial elements that serve as roadblocks. Almost all types of mobility require an extensive immobile infrastructure that enables the social functioning of everyday life. This immobile infrastructure includes sidewalks, roads, railways and so on (Urry, 2007). Urry (2007) shows how important infrastructure is which connects people with specific locations. Regardless of how often people move back and forth between places and connect them in their minds, it is the visible existing path inscribed on the earth’s surface which ensures that places are objectively connected (Urry, 2007). These connected places may have stabilizing and exclusive elements described by Gieryn (2000). “Place stabilizes and gives durability to social structural categories, differences and hierarchies; arranges patterns of face-to-face interaction that constitute network-formation and collective action; embodies and secures otherwise intangible cultural norms, identities, memories and values” (2000, p. 473). According to Gieryn (2000) hierarchical places result in the exclusion and segregation of certain categories of people by routinizing daily routes. These paths tend to produce similar capabilities and place limitations on movements or behavior within different contexts. It is not just social status which creates limitations; the human body itself can restrict access in particular public spaces as well (Karrholm, 2007). In this article the human body is understood from a phenomenological perspective. People take in the surrounding environment through sensory perception. Theorist Bryan Turner points out the problematic grasp of the body in sociological theory, stating that talking about the human body necessarily implies paradoxes, as the physical body is at the same time personality. Lived experience of the world is always the experience of the body. The body is socially constructed and socially experienced (Turner, 1996). There are many ways in which the body produces and reproduces social life. The rhythm of the body and the constant repeating of steps produce an incredible amount of biosocial practices (Urry, 2007).The process of moving is performed through structured techniques. There is a system of rules and possibilities according to which the body and objects are coordinated in a complex social choreography that is both purposeful and creative (Vannini & Vannini, 2008). As people have to share urban public spaces, they have to move their bodies in such a way that allows them to get to the desired point efficiently and safely, and along the way they have to deal with spatial, social and physical limitations.

Method

“The go-along method is a form of in-depth qualitative interview method that is conducted by a researcher accompanying individual informants on outings in their familiar environments” (Carpiano, 2009, p. 264). In practical terms, this means that a researcher accompanies individual informants on their routine, everyday outings or errands or on their way to work and asks them questions regarding the environment they find themselves in. The researcher listens to them and systematically observes them while actively identifying their personal experiences and habits and observing how they move around and interact with their physical and social environment (Kusenbach, 2003). It is preferable for the researcher to ask the participants questions directly in the place of practice (Miaux et al., 2010). It may be more convenient for informants to simply demonstrate their spatial habits, rather than describe or explain them. If we accompany our informants on their outings, they will find it easier to talk about things that may seem so banal or trivial that they have perhaps never talked about them, and it may be that these self-evident things would not come to them when sitting around the coffee table. We have to bear in mind that our informants may be unable to talk about some of the routine aspects of walking, as such issues may be unconscious. “Through shared walking we can see and feel what is really a learning process of being together, in adjusting one’s body and one’s speech to the rhythms of others, and of sharing a point of view” (Lee & Ingold, 2006, p. 83).

The go-along method can be used in conjunction with the traditional ethnographic method of observation and taking field notes. By observing one can identify certain reference points as well as notice how people in the streets communicate and take note of the displayed social ties. In addition to these visible inputs the observer can record what he/she hears and concentrate on the sensations produced (Jung, 2014). The final applied method used was the semi-structured interview. The interviews were held just after the go-along walk. These additional interviews took place in cafés or the informant’s home.

The research was conducted in two parallel streets in Brno or in sections, as both of these streets are quite long. The streets involved were Kounicova and Botanická (Figure 1). These streets have completely different atmospheres and infrastructure. A research field was marked out in between the two parallel streets, containing a park (Tyršův sad) and several interconnecting streets between Kounicova and Botanická. All of the connecting streets are on a slope. (Figure 2 shows the whole area in which the go-alongs were conducted.)

Figure 1 A map of the research area. Source: maps.google.com

Figure 1

A map of the research area. Source: maps.google.com

Figure 2 A satellite map of the area. Source: maps.google.com

Figure 2

A satellite map of the area. Source: maps.google.com

As part of my research, I conducted go-along interviews with a total of six people, all of whom participated in the subsequent semi-structured interview. One participant participated only in the semi-structured interview. The selection criteria were that the person had to have lived or worked in the particular area for a long time and walk along the streets in the research area everyday. A group of informants was put together on the basis of this information, rather than simply stopping random passers-by. The group also had to be heterogeneous in terms of age, gender and occupation, so the final group selected comprised four women and three men between the ages of 24 and 82. Their names and the names of their businesses and companies have been anonymized.

Evžen (24) is a university student who does not have a car, driving license and or a public transport pass. He moves around the city on foot. He lives in his chosen neighborhood and walks through it every day. On his way he walks along Botanická Street and goes up the hill to Kounicova which takes him into the city center. Once in the city center, he makes use of various services and visits his favorite places, such as cafés, bars, and libraries. The second respondent is also a student. Honza (26) studies at the Faculty of Informatics which is on Botanická Street. He goes there several times a week. Like Evžen he does not have a car or a driving license but, as he lives in a distant neighborhood, he takes a tram into the city center and then walks along Botanická Street to the university. The lifestyles of these respondents, their views of the streets and their interpretations are similar to mine. Conversely, Nikola (28) and Michal (36) have slightly different experiences. Michal lives on Botanická and works nearby. He walks to work every day. Nikola lives in a street perpendicular to Kounicova and has a part-time job on Kounicova. She has another job in a different district; she uses public transport but also drives her car to her second job. Although Nikola and Michal are not much older than the first two respondents, their everyday lives are considerably different. Both of them own a car and talk about parking problems. Moreover, they both have a dog which they walk daily. Milena (75), now retired, has lived on Burešova, a street perpendicular to Botanická Street, since she was a child. She likes to go hiking and on long walks. She has many friends in her neighborhood and a good overview of what goes on around her. My last respondent is Hana (74), who is also retired and lives on Kotlářská Street. She is also very active but does not maintain social ties in her neighborhood. Klára (82) finds walking difficult, so she was not willing to do a go-along with me. She has lived on Kounicova Street since she was 16 and worked there as well. I was grateful to her for sharing her memories with me during a long sit-down interview.

In the course of the go-along interviews, I and my informants discussed the objects, places and people we were passing. They talked about some of the buildings and I encouraged them to tell me about their memories of particular places in the street. I asked them to show me the routes they take and to explain why they choose these particular routes. For the semi-structured interview I came up with topics relating primarily to their sense of security in the location, their emotional relationship towards the street, their perception of the atmosphere of the place or its history, and I also asked about their recollections and collective memories. I wished to find out how my informants feel about the changes, inviting them to share with me their notion of the ideal street, and also to tell me how satisfied they were with the current state of the street. One of the topics discussed was the informants’ attitudes to walking and other modes of mobility. I was also interested in how the informants relate to other users of the space. The remaining questions were about the social ties restricted to the space. Afterwards, the data from these interviews were coded and analyzed.

Results

This following section presents my findings on how the pedestrians interviewed cope with motorists and cyclists and how they negotiate the space they walk through. In most city streets with traffic there are sidewalks and managed crossings for pedestrians. The same applies to my research area, where there is a dedicated space—the sidewalk—for pedestrians to walk. Aside from the pedestrians, the street is also used by drivers and cyclists, who have their own infrastructure. The following part of the article discusses the interactions between pedestrians and other street users. If pedestrians wish to access the other side of the street, they have to get across it. There are several ways of accomplishing this. Pedestrians can find the nearest crosswalk with traffic signals, where they have to wait until the signals indicate the crossing is clear. Another option is to use a crosswalk that has no traffic signals. Finally they can cross the road at a location where there is no dedicated infrastructure but where it is still possible to cross. In the Czech Republic, pedestrians can cross the road without using a crosswalk, as long as the nearest crosswalk is more than 50 m away. According to Pooley et al. (2014), when the sidewalks are sufficiently broad and pedestrians have priority on the crosswalk and in public spaces generally, more pedestrians can be found in the streets. If sidewalk maintenance is improved and pedestrians are separated from drivers and cyclists, walking can become the predominant mode of getting around. Pedestrians consider high density traffic to be the main barrier against walking and cycling.

My research informants had encountered similar problems with traffic. Nikola (28) points out that while she chooses to use the crosswalk in some situations, she more often crosses the street elsewhere, thus making her route more direct. She would rather take the risk than make a detour. She thinks the current situation regarding Kounicova Street is unsatisfactory and complains about the lack and location of the crosswalks. She thinks that the street is dangerous in this respect, but it still does not discourage her from crossing the street without using the crosswalk. She does not perceive it to be more dangerous than using the crosswalks without signals situated on other parts of the street: “The biggest problem is that there are no traffic lights anywhere along Kounicova Street, and people just cross it wherever they want to without being visible enough.” (Figure 3). Yet the crosswalk at the beginning of the street is far more ideal. The informants complained about having to wait too long because the system is set up so vehicles are allocated two turns per single pedestrian turn. They also complained that the time allocated for them to cross is too short, causing problems for elderly people especially. All the more surprising was the fact that retired female informant Klára (82) told me that she does not consider it a problem if she crosses the road at places other than the crosswalk. In her words, she chooses to do so because it is the most direct route.

Figure 3 Crossing the street without using the crosswalk.

Figure 3

Crossing the street without using the crosswalk.

Botanická Street is an undivided highway and the traffic is light, so the passing cars are not of concern. My informants did not feel at risk from passing cars. However, the intersection with Kotlářská Street is a problem for some, as there are no traffic lights on it. Honza (26) is already aware of problems in relation to this location: “It’s always a question of whether you want to cross it here or up there where the traffic lights are, since crossing here is tricky. When one lane stops, you’ve got to get into the middle of the road and look really self-confident so that the cars coming from down let you cross.”

My informants consider the crosswalks without signals to be just as dangerous as crossing the street elsewhere, but they criticize the crosswalks with signals as well. These are often situated at inconvenient locations, and the long wait interrupts the walk. The fact that everyone crosses Kounicova Street without using the crosswalk has already been highlighted. However, the same cannot be said for Botanická Street.

Both streets have a problem with parked cars. Maneuvering around them is not very dangerous, but it is still difficult. The informants thought the parked cars explained the lack of space, vegetation, waste bins and benches on the street (Figure 4).

Figure 4 Cars parked on the side-walk.

Figure 4

Cars parked on the side-walk.

Since aesthetics influence a person’s willingness to enter a public space, it is advisable to take the aesthetics of a place into considerations (Gehl, 2012). In this context, my informants viewed the cars parked in the street negatively. They use words such as “disaster” and “horrible” to describe the situation. While I did not notice that the unaesthetic appearance affected the behavior of my informants, the presence of parked cars has a different impact. It is an impediment to crossing the road, whether on a crosswalk or elsewhere, as the parked cars block the pedestrian’s view of the road, and, vice-versa, the motorists are not able to see pedestrians standing between parked cars. On Kounicova Street, the cars are parked on the sidewalk, reducing the space available for pedestrians (Figure 5).

Figure 5 Parked cars on the Kounicova Street.

Figure 5

Parked cars on the Kounicova Street.

This poses a problem at night especially, since the presence of cars can generate a sense of constraint, followed by fear. “I find it difficult to walk near the stadium where there are parked cars. I don’t like using the sidewalk because if someone wants to swoop on you, then they can because you are kind of trapped there. So as a rule, I walk on the road instead. What if someone simply pulls you into a car and drives off with you, then what.” Hana (74)

Nikola (28) does not feel comfortable being in the street at night with the cars parked on one side either. She describes her feelings when walking along Slovákova Street, which runs perpendicular to Kounicova Street and leads into the city centre. However, a similar situation exists in the connecting streets of Sokolská and Smetanova. “Being a woman and wandering around the side streets, that’s like...well, when I am out at night and go into Slovákova from Kounicova, I am a bit scared already, cos it’s like a meter and a half between the cars and the buildings. Anyone could grab you and pull you into a building, and no-one would even notice.”

Motorists and pedestrians are not the only ones to use the street space, as they have to share it with cyclists as well. On Botanická Street, there is one dedicated bike lane (Figure 6).

Figure 6 A space divided into a side-walk and a bike lane.

Figure 6

A space divided into a side-walk and a bike lane.

The problems concerning the adjacent sidewalk and cycle path are described in a city planning document: “Traditionally, pedestrians and cyclists are grouped together as “soft mobility”, and this relates to their shared routes as well. To create suitable conditions to increase soft mobility within the confined space of the urban street network means preventing pedestrians and cyclists from being pushed out into a common corridor on the periphery of the space for traffic. While this may be safer for the cyclists, for disabled pedestrians this results in the complete loss of the only safe place in the street.” Master plan for pedestrian infrastructure in Brno city (2010).

My informants saw cyclists as the greatest problem on Botanická Street. Walking in the bike lane is not impossible, but some informants feel very uncomfortable doing so. Some dislike it so much that they choose to walk on the other side of the street. Others take the risk of walking in the bike lane. Milena (75) shares her unique experience: “Well, except for this bike lane here. We prefer to walk on the other side, the older side. See, here comes another one, and some of them don’t even have a bell and they come up behind you and pass so close to you that if they brushed up against you... that would be really unpleasant. And you can see here that there is just no place left for the pedestrians. My husband had been blind for eight years and when I walked here beside him, it was really horrible not being able to hear the cyclist coming up behind you, especially for two people. So I had to be really careful.” Milena (75)

Despite the fact that the pedestrians refer to Botanická Street as a pleasant, green, light, neat and quiet street, walking along it is stressful for some population groups. Although they have the option of using the sidewalk on the other side of the street, where there is no bicycle lane, they regard this as restrictive.

The previous section was concerned mainly with the problems pedestrians have to deal with in relation to the transport infrastructure. We shall now consider how the pedestrians interviewed cope with the fact that they feel uncomfortable in the urban space. Human behavior is space-oriented and relational; it is always dependent on other people, objects and places. When walking, people are not passive observers but actively help shape the city (Jensen, 2009). Hence all city dwellers can express their approach through their movements and by doing so reproduce their social relations. The aim was to discover how the informants perceive their own influence over the shape of the street and whether they act with a clear intention to change the state of the street, albeit collectively or individually. There are several ways people can voice their dissatisfaction with the current state of the street. I enquired about community involvement, as well as trying to detect more subtle indications of efforts they might make to change the shape of the street for the benefit of pedestrians or other users. However, my informants are not involved in any form of activism, whether collective or individual. This is not because they are satisfied with the current situation in the street but because they do not feel they have the power or competency to intervene in the state of the street.

When I asked respondents about what changes to the street they would like to see, I often felt my query was unsuitable or inappropriate, and it was suggested that urban planning should be left to the professionals. Michal (36) disengages from the capacity to make decisions: “My experience could be wrong. My experience could be irrelevant.” Although Klára (82) is not satisfied with the way things are in the street, she does not think the situation can be changed or resolved. “It would be nice to have more plants or trees in here, but there’s no place to put them. There’s nothing we can do about it. Over there, there’s not much either, and there’s more space. Here, there are two trees. And waste bins? There aren’t any here at all. Where would we put them when there are cars everywhere? But if you took the cars away, then the city wouldn’t get any money from them. And the billboards, these have to be here.” Klára (82)

Others, however, were unable to articulate their vision of how the city should be changed to improve the walking experience. Their statements suggest that everything is just the way it has to be and nothing can be done about it. As Michal (36) aptly puts it: “Look, I’m not able to judge the state of it, and I don´t want to deal with it and waste my time, I can’t change the situation, so it’s pointless even thinking about it.” Nikola (28), however, pointed out an example of an intervention in space that had altered it for the benefit of pedestrians. It consisted of wooden planks laid across a place where people cut across the grass, making it muddy. Nikola (28) is glad the planks are there as she makes use of them, but she would not put them there herself. (See Figure 7).

Figure 7 Planks facilitating passage via a shortcut.

Figure 7

Planks facilitating passage via a shortcut.

Discussion

Interactions with other road users

I claim that my informants express their identity in the space and exercise their right of space. It is through jaywalking that they express themselves. As Jensen (2013) puts it, the cars travel about using dedicated infrastructure which pedestrians can access only at designated places and times, i.e. set by the green signal of the crosswalk. Nevertheless, in reality the pedestrians break these regulating rules, as they choose to utilize the infrastructure outside the places designated for them. All of my informants cross the road without using the crosswalks and by doing so they demonstrate to the drivers that this space is theirs as well and that this needs to be acknowledged. Thus, in a way, they form a shared space that is not strictly divided into lanes for the individual groups of users but instead merges them together. With this in mind, all the users are forced to be more vigilant and careful. On entering the road, the drivers and cyclists become aware that the street is not solely theirs. Having said that, the pedestrians are not the only group stripping away the boundaries of the space because cars and cyclists can be found on the sidewalks (Figures 8 and 9).

Figure 8 Children on the sidewalk and bike lane.

Figure 8

Children on the sidewalk and bike lane.

Figure 9 A delivery vehicle in the bike lane.

Figure 9

A delivery vehicle in the bike lane.

Daily walking and routine

In 1984, Michel de Certeau examined the way walkers move around the streets, defining the strategies and tactics of everyday practice and walking. The city space is being shaped by strategies based on political, economic and academic rationality. These serve to discipline and regulate the way people behave, based on the idea of what is right and what the correct method of walking is in different places. People respond to these strategies by establishing and employing tactics. These tactics consist of seizing the opportunities that emerge momentarily in the city by means of improvised, unforeseen maneuvers and tricks within the space. It is through these tactics that pedestrians domesticate and personalize the space. One such example may be “jaywalking” (Figure 10).

Figure 10 The construction work forces pedestrians off the sidewalk and into the road.

Figure 10

The construction work forces pedestrians off the sidewalk and into the road.

When we walk along the same streets every day, walking becomes routine. Thus my informants have formed everyday walking routines that they follow automatically and subconsciously. However, my research also indicates that the informants’ behavior is highly flexible, enabling them to adapt to their surroundings and to take shortcuts to accommodate the traffic, weather or their clothing. They easily step over obstacles such as chains (Figure 11). Over time, my informants have learned when, where and how it is most convenient to walk. They move around the streets everyday and this regularity has an impact on their conduct and behavior, as the routine helps reinforce the pedestrians’ behavior patterns. Until there is a change in their surroundings, their behavior routine will not permeate their consciousness. As long as the routine remains undisturbed and seamless, the informant will not reflect on it.

Figure 11 An ineffective space barrier.

Figure 11

An ineffective space barrier.

Slavomíra Ferenčuhová and Mark Jayne (2013) compare the theories of Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre on understanding everyday life. Unlike Lefebvre, Certeau does not see quotidian routines as a result of alienation in capitalist society and submission to bureaucracy. He recognizes that people are unaware of their routine behaviors but does not understand everyday life as a submission to the capitalist system. He highlights the innovative tactics that people use to adapt to the rules and space. For my respondents walking is a daily routine that they perform automatically and unsuspectingly. Nonetheless during the go-alongs they showed how flexible they are and how they can easily adapt to their environment. Most of the obstacles they encounter on their way became part of their daily routine. My respondents are able to come up with tactics. Once they have transformed the obstacles so they do not present a problem, they do not think about them. This might be one reason why they have no desire to change the infrastructure, the sidewalk. Seniors do not try to change the environment despite being a very vulnerable group of pedestrians. They have a very clear idea of what a good street is: it is a street they know well, one which does not change. Seniors are very sensitive to their perceived inability to participate in decision-making relating to their familiar surroundings and consider changes to the surroundings and the alterations to be insensitive and arrogant (Vidovićová et al., 2013). In Klára’s case this may reflect a desire for a stable environment, as she has lived on Kounicova Street almost all her life.

Daily walking and negotiating the right to the city

My respondents generally have a positive attitude to walking. For all of them, walking in the city is the preferred means of urban mobility and is an integral part of their everyday life. According to the categorizations made by John Urry (2007) my informants could be characterized as people with an urban lifestyle, who prefer to live in the city center and regard the ease of accessing transport to the city center as the main priority. They prefer walking in the city to driving. Several times throughout the interviews they mentioned that they enjoy going downtown every day to shop, eat or spend time with friends or take part in its cultural life. They do not feel entirely satisfied with the current state of the pedestrian infrastructure, whether in terms of safety or convenience. At the same time, however, they are unable or unwilling to strive for change. Why do they not try to change the streets given that they are active in other spheres of their lives? In this section I will try to explain the concept of a person’s ‘right to the city’ which is connected to this last question. It is a concept that was developed by Henri Lefebvre in the late 1960s. Lefebvre (1968) used this term to refer to collective action and the creation of a place where people live together and share a common culture.

The right to the city is not merely a right of access to what the property speculators and state planners define, but an active right to make the city different, to shape it more in accord with our heart’s desire, and to re-make ourselves thereby in a different image (Harvey, 2003, p. 941).

According to David Harvey (2003) this kind of activism requires a community based on shared cultural values. My respondents do not belong to an active community which would use cultural meanings and shape the identity of the pedestrian as someone who has a right to walk safely around a locality. As these actions are motivated by a shared vision of a better public space and if the idea is not taken up and remains isolated, any vision of change is perceived as unreal and therefore unachievable (Pink, 2008). My informants do not share their idea of an ideal street with anyone else and nor do they participate in the local community, and so the idea that they could change the street at their own initiative remains unreal. My data show that the informants do not think they have the power to change the street, despite witnessing many changes when in that space. Nevertheless, we can say that their individual actions, or tactics as Certeau would call them, provide them with a means by which they can declare their individual right to their city. However, it is not clear when the critical point will be reached, and they will feel the need to express their right to the city collectively.

Evaluation of the method

The go-along method proved to be a good fit for this type of research and especially useful in cases where respondents are unable to verbalize their daily experiences. During the go-along interviews it was quite clear what was important to my respondents in their daily lives even though they were not able to express it clearly. Generally this was indicated by a raised tone of voice and the use of emotional storytelling. In these situations it was no longer possible to follow their everyday routine. It was obvious that the go-along interview could not provide a true picture of their day-to-day routine since the presence of the investigator disturbed the everydayness. The respondents tended to make detours from their usual route just to show me something special. I found the go-along method to be helpful especially on Botanická Street, as it was sometimes almost impossible to conduct the interviews there because of the cyclists. These disruptions helped me to understand the problem the cycle path creates. Although I consider the method to be very effective, it does not tell you anything about the reality beyond the limits of the field or timeframe.

Conclusion

The pedestrians interviewed are able to negotiate their space on the streets between the cars and the bicycles by creating a shared space. They regularly violate the borders of the divided infrastructures as other road users do the same. They consider the traffic conditions to be inadequate for pedestrians, but they always find their way or make new innovative use of the space to reach their desired final point efficiently. They do not require a radical municipal democracy and nor do they form an active urban community. On an individual level they are not totally subordinated to the spatial order, but on a social level, they are not active in the public sphere or engaged in civil society, and they do not revolt against capitalism.

Opportunities for the future use of the go-along method lie in the fact that this method can be used to focus on a specific group of public space users. As is clear from this paper the experience of older people differs from that of other respondents, not just concerning the physical perception of space, but also their relationship with the place. This raises questions as to the tactics used by people who do not have equal access to public space and how they form their relationship with the place. The go-along method could be used to reveal the extent to which they find the urban space friendly. In my research, I focused on the experiences of people who walk through the area; it was not my ambition to ascertain their purpose for on the street. I did not determine the extent to which perceptions or behaviors differ in relation to the purpose of their walk—whether it was to travel somewhere or for recreational purposes. Only a few studies on recreational walks in the city have been carried out so far (Brown & Shortell, 2014), and so additional research in this area could give a new dimension to investigations into everyday pedestrian mobility. The research focus could also be extended to include topics such as power, property and the cultural aspects of the space. To gain a broader perspective on walking, the city environment could be considered as a whole, and the focus could be on the network of relationships, which would help us better understand why the people in this context do not create active communities.

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Published Online: 2016-04-06
Published in Print: 2016-10-01

© 2016 Institute for Research in Social Communication, Slovak Academy of Sciences

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