Upcoming Downtown Tour

I keep meeting people who were on a Jane’s Walk of Kitchener’s Warehouse District last May 1st, given by me and enjoyed by about 80 participants. Lots of community connections were made that day, and it was a great way to see the district with a fresh eye.

Coming up this Monday, November 4, 2010

I’ll be leading a group of cultural geography students from Wilfrid Laurier University on a different tour, but with a similar focus on the realities of design, culture, and the built landscape that is Kitchener’s Downtown.

We are assembling in the Rotunda of Kitchener’s City Hall, at 3 pm, and will be heading out, rain or shine, for a 2 hour walk through the downtown and warehouse district. We’ll examine issues of place-making, heritage and culture, our understanding and use of the idea of downtown, and the relation of built form and architecture to the patterns of our everyday lives.

The tour is part of a third year Cultural Heritage Landscapes course given by Dr. Jody Decker of WLU’s Department of Geography & Environmental Studies. I met Dr. Decker through our efforts to derail the demolition of a cultural heritage landscape in Kitchener’s Warehouse District (unfortunately a lost cause).

Everyone is welcome to join us. It will be fun and informative.

The themes of Dr. Decker’s course, as stated in her abstract, are as follows:

  • The concept of culture
  • The concept of place (community, neighborhood)
  • The concept of landscape
  • The discourse of heritage (conservation, preservation, restoration, revitalization, as resource)
  • Cultural heritage landscapes (CHLs)

I’ll probably be talking about concepts that are most interestly presented in Italo Calvino’s work Invisible Cities, and I’m sure there will be lively debate about what we’re looking at.

Calvino’s imaginative work catalogues 55 cities in a fictional conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, as Marco describes (in fanciful terms) the cities of Khan’s empire. For the short first chapter, see here.

Here’s an excerpt:

In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, or agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.

From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.

They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.
Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.

Look forward to seeing you on Monday. 3 pm, City Hall, Kitchener.

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