Last Friday, 23rd May, a sunny day with fluffy white clouds sailing across the inverted blue bowl of the sky, I walked onto Trafalgar Square in central London looking for a red and white umbrella. 2 hours later, courtesy of David Pearl and the wonderful human beings who help make Street Wisdom happen, I walked home having found something else altogether. In the hurly burly midst of the 21st Century metropolis, with the rushing stream of commerce surging all around us, we searched the streets at a more human pace. Each of us with a question to explore. Some highly personal, some more practical in nature.
The first hour is spent on a couple of simple challenges that help create a different space for thinking to occur in. This is done by interacting differently with the physical space around you. We all approached the challenges differently. Me, I took to lying down; to climbing up on; to pressing myself up against; to approaching strangers. You get some funny looks. You become something of an obstruction in the stream (that bit felt particularly liberating). You notice more. You notice things on a more intimate, human scale. We were asked to pay attention to the things that we were drawn to. And to the things that jarred. The jarring came to me in the constant admonishments, the setting of boundaries, the rules, the lines, the stops, the don’ts, the keep outs, the this way and that way, the no entries and in the omnipresent eye of the CCTV camera.
I kept getting drawn away from the built environment to something more organic entirely. The evidence of humanity. Of human beings in spite of the city. Blurring lines. Fraying the edges. Filling gaps. It required some fine tuning to drown out the more immediately visible, audible city crowding in around us. Rushing into that vacated void came small individual acts and voices. Tyre tracks on a wall; a letter carved into the trunk of a tree; a single shoe, a brogue, on a porch high above a door; slogans; cardboard posters; a window cleaner’s Post-It note; a tissue tucked under a bicycle seat; a sticker, low down on a wall at the National Gallery, with just the name Jessica written on it. All over the city, millions of individual stories, the millions of little marks we’ve left. We are here.
We had been asked to bring a question with us to consider on a solo walk in the second hour. I wanted to use my space to work on “How can I use what I do to help the people I meet today?” I as I walked and as we reconvened to tell our own stories and discoveries back to the group it became apparent that the question I had been pondering was not actually “How can I use what I do to help the people I meet today?” but “How can I help people?” It’s not about what I do for a living or the product of my work. That could be the vehicle for the help I may give, but it has to start with the very human consideration – “How might I help?”
My friends David D’Souza, Chris Kane and Kate Griffiths-Lambeth also went along to Street Wisdom last week. It won’t be the last you hear from us on the subject. You can read David’s blogpost on his experience here. Chris and I are working together on a big conversation that would benefit from a new approach to the questions we’re looking to resolve. I’m not someone who is easily convinced. That I came away from Street Wisdom determined to tell everyone else about my experience and to encourage others to take part is testament to the unobtrusive facilitation, intelligent inquiry and transparent passion of David Pearl and his fellow travellers. A renaissance in thinking is under way. We might all be flaneurs now.