Cities that shape

Last Friday I saw the movie Tokyo!, directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-Ho. It asks the question, do we define our cities, or do they define us?

Today, while checking my RSS feeds, I eventually saw something related to this idea. “Theory of the Dérive”, by Guy Debord:

One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “driftingî], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.

He also writes:

In his study Paris et líagglomération parisienne (BibliothËque de Sociologie Contemporaine, P.U.F., 1952) Chombart de Lauwe notes that “an urban neighborhood is determined not only by geographical and economic factors, but also by the image that its inhabitants and those of other neighborhoods have of it.î In the same work, in order to illustrate “the narrowness of the real Paris in which each individual lives . . . within a geographical area whose radius is extremely small,î he diagrams all the movements made in the space of one year by a student living in the 16th Arrondissement. Her itinerary forms a small triangle with no significant deviations, the three apexes of which are the School of Political Sciences, her residence and that of her piano teacher.

It’s basically mapping someone’s movements over a course of time, and displaying this information graphically. I disagree with the quote on MoonRiver’s blog describing “the narrowness of the real Paris in which each individual lives and which, according to Debord, ought to provoke outrage at the fact that anyone’s life can be so pathetically limited.”

Pathetic seems unfair. This is just a map of someone’s movements for a year. It’s not a determination of the quality of those movements and interactions. Let’s not forget, the map is of Paris; I’m sure there are many who would have loved to trade places with this student for that year. I guess perhaps it depends on what de Lauwe means by “image”, above. To be less serious, here’s another example from a dad mapping the movements of himself, his 2 kids, and their cat for 1 hour in front of the TV, on Flickr. Interesting stuff.

To answer the question, do our cities shape us, or us them, I think it’s a little of both, but perhaps as much as we make it so. In any case, the movie was quite entertaining and quirky to say the least.

Tokyo! is playing at the Landmark Sunshine Theaters, in NYC.