Walking in the capitalist city

On the socio-economic origins of walkable urbanism

Authored by: Anja Hälg Bieri

The Routledge International Handbook of Walking

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138195349
eBook ISBN: 9781315638461
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315638461.ch2

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Abstract

Walking has become a trend in the USA. In recent years, the desire to walk has brought forth specific urban design for walkable places. Whence this trend? In order to understand this phenomenon, this chapter suggests we view walking not simply as a human form of locomotion or a transportation mode, but identify it as a social phenomenon. Offering a way of theorizing walking anthropologically as a social practice that takes on different forms in different historical and spatial contexts, and drawing a genealogy of the walking trend and theorizing its underlying logic with the help of critical theory is the aim of this chapter. A dialectic of aestheticization and commodification runs through modernity that generates aestheticized forms of walking today. While the desire to walk is initially a form of aesthetic struggle against the rational principles of modernity and the forces of capitalism, this struggle is co-opted by the logic of capital in a continuous interlacing of the processes of aestheticization and commodification. The social and spatial consequences of capitalism together with the process of aestheticization of society produce new spatial forms of capitalism, new commodified forms of social interaction, and new forms of walking. What became of the yearning for agency through walking? With walkable urbanism, capital returns to the city centre and creates new markets for a budding walkable lifestyle which is fed through conspicuous consumption.

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