Making institutional meaning of place
In The Practice of Everyday Life the French scholar De Certeau has a chapter “Walking in the City”. Here he asserts that the ‘city’ is brought into being by official bodies and large institutions which produce systems like street grids, planned urban spaces, precincts, maps etc. And it is these strategies which organize the city’s spaces into a coherent, intelligible and coherent whole.
Making personal meaning of place
De Certeau argues that, by contrast, the walker moves in ways that are haphazard and irregular, seldom adhering to the plans of organizing bodies. So for example pedestrians might take shortcuts which will ignore the strategic grid of the streets. Or their line of vision (focusing on shop fronts or an interesting activity) will not necessarily cohere with the planned sight line of an urban planner.
The gaze: totalizing versus fragmented
De Certeau contrasts walking in the city to the panoramic totalizing and all-encompassing vistas gained from high vantage points – the ‘all- seeing gaze’ from the top of Carlton Centre as opposed to the fractured and interrupted sensations of those walking at street level below.
Walking makes a city
Furthermore, these pedestrians in a city create it through remaking the planned or regulated scheme of the city. In walking in the city, the pedestrian gives new meanings to places and streets which are not the same as those originally assigned to them. This can be so clearly seen in the way pedestrians (and those who use the city at street level) re-make the inner city of Johannesburg. So walking the city becomes one of the best ways to not only understand spaces but also to make new meanings of its spaces.
Walking tours of Joburg
So .. put on your walking shoes, pick up the phone and make a booking on a walking tour of Joburg. There are many excellent ones to choose from:
- Gerald Garner of Joburg Places has written 3 books on Joburg focusing on the inner city decline and its subsequent regeneration. He’s passionate about Joburg and runs really fascinating informed tours. You can check what is up-coming on
- Past Experiences run a wider range of excellent tours. They have run tours as varied as looking at graffiti art under the highways to the more sanitized and controlled space of Lilliesleaf Farm.
- As well as general walking tours of the inner city, Main Street Walks offer special interest tours such as picnics in the sky, tours of Maboneng precinct and an art and justice tour.
- And finally the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation runs tours which might not be as critically informed as the ones above, but will give you insights into interesting parts of greater Johannesburg – from the Randlords homes on the Parktown Ridge to the Brixton cemetry and the lives of some who are buried there