Psychogeography, a term coined by a French theorist Guy Debord, is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” (Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography) It examines the relations of physical places and human’s emotions. The study of Psychogeography is inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s writing of a flâneur, a wanderer in a city. By wandering, one observes things usually been overlooked, and studies the history and meanings behind each architecture.

In “Why We Should Design Smart Cities for Getting Lost”, the author questions: “Why don’t we offer the choice to go slow, to take the least polluted route to work, or the scenic way home?” There are the opportunities beyond telematics, beyond finding the shortest time and shortest distance from point A to B. Yet nowadays, people only focus on the fastest speed and maximized efficiency, but forget to look around to see where they actually are.

The author uses many examples of different cities to further illustrate the concept, including London, Sydney, and Berlin. The long human history in these cities gave meanings to numerous street corners and neighborhoods, yet we forgot about them. In Paris, there was Velodrome d’Hiver, an indoor bicycle racing cycle track and stadium. People know it as an old stadium for 1924 Olympics, but would not know the history of it being used to hold 13,000 Jews by Nazi-Germany. People in New York would hardly stand near Washington Place and mourn for factory workers died in Triangle Factory fire. Millions of story have been forgotten. Even if it does have a plaque on the wall, how many pedestrians would stop and read the story behind each place?

However, we are the people who wander in the place of The System, ambitious to take a good look of it. To unearth the forgotten and the cover-ups is our responsibility. Learning about the African American’s sacrifice in wars through the East End Cemetery and racism and economic problems through redlining of Richmond give us a better perspective of how the System is constructed.

Yet, we are still exploring. We are immersed into this place. But we are not following the route that the System has implanted into our heads. Like the question that I asked about wrongful convicting innocents, that is the GPS road the System is directing us that we might not even have realized. If we only follow one road, all of us will only be able to end up at the same destination. By we, I mean all humans. That is why “history repeats itself”. We need to find alternative routes, even if we are lost in the System, we might be ended up at a better destination. But, being lost does not mean being ignorant of the surroundings. On the contrary, we need to turn on our radars and think in the second and third space. We will note what we have been passing by, the history of these places and the effects of them, including racism, sexism, social hierarchy, economic status and etc.

To quote Siobhan Lyons, “Psychogeography thrives as an interrogation of space and history: it compels us to abandon – at least temporarily – our ordinary of the face value of a location, so that we may question its mercurial history.” That is also what we are trying to do in our class. So when we identify another problem in our society, it is not just pointing at the System and blame it, but to learn what actually made this happen.

Leave a Reply