Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Oaxaca Street Art V: Ligas Peatonales

The men who have done most of the work are those who enjoy those sidewalks less. Only sidewalks. And I say for myself, the moment I get on one of those sidewalks, I start to fall down.

— Emiliano Zapata, December 1914

City streets, like city parks, were public spaces. Anyone could use them provided they did not unduly annoy or endanger others. Under this construction of the city street, even children at play could be legitimate street users. Some proposed a more radical social reconstruction of the street as a motor thoroughfare, confining pedestrians to crossings and sidewalks.
With these perspectives went diverging answers to the question “who belongs in the street?” To protect pedestrians, some proposed restricting their use of street space. Pedestrians angry at the automobile’s intrusion resented such ideas, and demanded restriction of the car instead. As disputes grew hotter, automotive interests began to appreciate their own stake in the result. They lost confidence that safety councils could prevent accidents without curtailing the car’s urban future. By late 1923, therefore, motordom joined the safety fight as an independent player. It struggled to stop definitions of the safety problem that threatened the automobile’s place in the city.
. . .
Motorists hit upon the most effective epithet early: “jaywalker.” A “jay” was a hayseed, out of place in the city; a jaywalker was someone who did not know how to walk in a city. Originally the term applied as much or more to pedestrians who obstructed the path of other pedestrians—by failing, for example, to keep to the right on the sidewalk. As autos grew common on city streets, jaywalkers were more often pedestrians oblivious to the danger of city motor traffic. According to one early, more general definition (1913), jaywalkers were “men so accustomed to cutting across fields and village lots that they zigzag across city streets, scorning to keep to the crossings, ignoring their own safety” and “impeding traffic.” Advocates of pedestrian control fought to classify as jaywalker any person who walked anywhere in the roadway, except in intersections at right angles to traffic. To work, the epithet “jaywalker” had to be introduced to the millions. In 1921 a collector of dialect found the term “not common.” That would have to change. In city safety campaigns, safety reformers found their opportunity. In Syracuse’s pioneering safety campaign of December 1913, a man in a Santa Claus suit used a megaphone to denounce careless pedestrians as “jay walkers.”
. . .
Boy Scouts in Providence, Rhode Island, summoned jaywalkers to a “school for careless pedestrians” for reeducation. In many cities, police or Boy Scouts distributed anti-jaywalking cards to pedestrians who crossed streets in disapproved ways.
. . .
In 1920, when the wave of public safety campaigns was just beginning, “jaywalker” was a rare and controversial term. Safety weeks, more than anything else, introduced the word to the millions. Frequent use wore down its sharp edge, and it passed into acceptable usage as a term for lawless pedestrians who would not concede their old rights to the street, even in the dawning motor age. In 1924, soon after the intense publicity of safety weeks, “jaywalker” first appeared in a standard American dictionary. The entry officially gave the word its new, motor age definition: “One who crosses a street without observing the traffic regulations for pedestrians.” 

— Peter D Norton Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City

The Central Actor
The city is inhabited by people, therefore it should be for them that the city is conceived, built, and modified. At the same time, there are distinct groups of people and specific needs. This diversity must be at the axis of transformations of urban space.

Oaxaca’s Casa de la Ciudad isn’t asking a lot. Their mission is pretty straightforward, as “a center dedicated to the study and analysis of the city,” and, in particular, defending “the development of a city that is humane and safe, economically just and environmentally healthy.” Here’s a bit of the permanent installation.

Unlike average tourists—who, as soon as they arrive in a city, begin hanging awkwardly around the alien city center—I make it my policy to head straight for the suburbs so as to learn my way around the outskirts. I soon discovered the rightness of this principle. Never had the first hour been as profitable as the one I spent in and among the inner port and dock installations, the warehouses, the poorer neighborhoods, the scattered refuges of the destitute.

Belt that cinches against the city and the country, these outlying districts constitute their pathological side; they are the terrain upon which the great decisive battles between town and country are continuously being fought out. It is the hand-to-hand combat of telegraph poles with agaves, barbed wire with prickly palms, the stench of steamed-up corridors with the damp sycamore lined, brooding squares, shortwinded flights of steps with overbearing hills.

— Walter Benjamin

Fotopiso: Historic Maps of Oaxaca City.

And here’s Mexico’s Liga Peatonal presenting on the Statement of Pedestrian Rights earlier this month. (Much thanks to Queretaro’s Editorial El Caminante for their great work on this!)

Burned out as I thoroughly am on comic book superhero movies, I have to allow that a name like the Pedestrian League invites at least a one season Netflix series, or something on Cartoon Network.

Asael Arista was also there making pedestrian postcards with the kiddos (pequeños peatones).  This all happened as part of their 30dias del Peatón show.

Meanwhile, back on the streets:

related: pedestrian days, walking in the city, Chinatown haiku, Tracks

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