Chuck Wolfe

Images of Seattle and Barcelona offer fresh insight into the way pedestrians interact with the built environment.

The actor and director Orson Welles once said:

I don't believe in learning from other people’s pictures. I think you should learn from your own interior vision of things and discover, as I say, Innocently, as though there had never been anybody.

I agree, and apply Welles’ point of view to portrayal and comprehension of the urban environment. I learn about cities by shuffling my own photographs—not others’—and comparing similar human activities in different places.

I gave this a try with the images above. Four contrasting photos of the American crosswalk (the two images on the left) and Barcelona’s Las Ramblas (the photos on the right) show direct differences between people and public rights of way. Determined, mechanistic crossings on the left contrast with the ambiance of street life on the right. Photos like these freeze the activity in view, allowing novel dissection of everyday transactions which we otherwise take for granted.

In the American crosswalks, I see the pedestrians in separate spaces, on their way to a distant elsewhere, and not part of the street they traverse. Their perpendicular disconnect with the right of way is particularly clear from my camera’s vantage point.

In Barcelona, the vantage point on a walking street merges with the activity around it. There is a unity of people with their surroundings, and stares are not empty, but engaged with the adjacent place.

From thoughtful composition of one’s own, simple urban photographs, stories unfold, which both define problems and suggest solutions. But in their own experience, regardless of the imagery, some readers may prefer a crosswalk’s anonymity to the proximity (and pickpockets) of walking streets and tourist lore.

Those individual preferences make my very point. Here, rather than dictate walkability to others with my pictures, I show and tell.

However, like Orson Welles, I urge readers to think for themselves about what they see, and draw conclusions from their own vision, photos not required. Allowing for multiple perspectives about what is best in the city is a practice that I highly recommend.

Images composed by the author in Seattle and Barcelona.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Passengers line up for a bullet train at a platform in Tokyo Station.
    Transportation

    The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

    The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks.

  2. Transportation

    Madrid Takes Its Car Ban to the Next Level

    Starting in November, the city will make clear that downtown streets are not for drivers.

  3. Equity

    Mapping the Segregation of Metro Atlanta’s Amenities

    A new mapping project shows how segregation is a matter of whether you have close access to a grocery store, hospital, bank, or park—amenities that influence your quality of life.

  4. Occupy Wall Street protesters rally in Canal Street in Lower Manhattan in November 2011.
    Life

    How Centuries of Protest Shaped New York City

    A new book traces the “citymaking process” of riots and rebellions since the era of Dutch colonization to the present.

  5. A detail from a 1942 British Mandate map of Haifa, now a city in Israel.
    Maps

    Mapping Palestine Before Israel

    A new open-source project uses British historical maps to reveal what Palestine looked like before 1948.