Milano master-class

01. Seeking Calm on Metropolitan Trails

#lesson1 #lesson4 #urbanhistory #carcity #backstage

On the form we take. On who we are. With our cars. It’s a relatively recent form. Cars only really became commonplace in the 1960s. Their invasion in our cities is very recent, and we don’t have enough distance yet to measure their impact. My generation grew up in a world which was new and unknown, a noisy world filled with cars. And bit by bit, historians have begun to track this change. In Europe, for instance, children were not warned about playing in the middle of the street until the 1920s; before that, they could since there was less traffic. All the space that is now taken over by cars could be used by children, since it wasn’t dangerous.

So, we are faced with the paradox of having to look at a new world, and we have few tools to help us understand this “car city”. At the same time, for people interested in Metropolitan Trails, our relationship to cars is important, so it needs to be defined.

I don’t think what I’m about to say is unique to me or eccentric. I think that one of aspect of walking through a city is to seek calm. It’s taken me a long time to formulate it in those terms. Early on, it was very unconscious. I would say, “you should never be closer than 10 meters to a car”, which is very difficult when you’re walking down a street because sometimes you have to press yourself up against walls. But now I like to give the people I guide the gift of calm. It’s a bit like abstract art, a moment of rest for the mind. And there are techniques to achieve it.

For example, if you notice that the shortest distance between point A and point B is a busy and noisy road, look to see if there are backstage routes. The word backstage is a theater term: it’s what is hidden behind the set on stage. And the car city is a kind of new set; and there might be hidden paths nearby which, though perhaps longer, may be calmer. And we can decide whether to take the opportunity to head backstage, because even if it takes longer, the calm itself adds value.

Today, I use Google Earth to look at car-size roads and decide if they’re too noisy. To mark them out as large blots of noise. And what’s left are pockets of calm, and that’s where I look for walking itineraries. I then link the calm spaces, with short interjections of sound—the shortest I can find.

I’m not dogmatic about it. What’s important is for there to be some noise from time to time within this search for calm. But I am convinced that incessant noise is absolutely unbearable. It can work as a one-off experience. You can decide to spend the day, for instance, next to a busy road, but for several days, for it to become your life—no. It would reduce your life expectancy, give you migraines.

So, in search of calm on Metropolitan Trails.