Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Walking City. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Walking City. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


If you type “walking” and “city” into a search engine you’ll most likely come up with lists of the world’s supposedly great walking cities – San Francisco, Boston, London, Paris, etc.  I suppose this is what most people are looking for.

But shortly after those “walking cities” you get references to “The Walking City,” something conceived by Ron Herron, in 1964 when he was part of Archigram, a group of avant-garde, speculative “futurist” architects based around the Architectural Association in London.  It was the name of their magazine too.

Herron’s idea, simultaneously quite absurd and utterly appealing, was of a city made up of separate structures, pods rather than what we think of as buildings, and these pods would have legs, and they could stroll around the world, or at least around whatever landmass they happened to be on, moving from one environment to another as conditions demanded, joining up with and separating from other similarly pods as they went, constantly forming and reforming themselves into fresh groupings and communities.  This would probably have played havoc with the kids’ schooling, but after all it was only speculative.

Anab Jain, who is founder and director of something called Superflux, and for some reason is quoted all over the net,  writes, “The citizen is therefore a serviced nomad not totally dissimilar from today's executive cars.”  (Might want to run that through the grammar check, but we get the idea.)  To which I would respond, well, yes and no.  If you ask me it’s actually more similar to a man in a car towing a caravan, or a man sleeping in the back of his Volkswagen Beetle, which doesn’t seen inherently futurist; but more of that later.

As all this indicates, Herron’s idea wasn’t actually of a whole city that walked, but rather of individual components that walked in order to create cities.  For a genuine walking city we might look to Zodanga, as it appears in the movie John Carter,  he “of Mars” fame, based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels.

This is not an area where I claim any great expertise, but as I understand it this version of a walking city was invented by the movie makers.  In Burroughs’ novels Zodanga was a conventional, land-rooted city with 75 feet high walls, though in different books it did pop up in different and contradictory locations.  This seems to have been the result of careless writing rather anything else.  Putting the city on legs and making it mobile was an explanatory in-joke for John Carter fans, which box office receipts suggest is a fairly limited constituency.  Did the writers and designers of the movie know about Ron Herron’s Walking City?  Well, I’ll just bet they did.

Ditto the writers of the Simpsons.  In the end, my favourite moving, if not actually walking, city is the Simpsons’ Springfield.  In the episode Trash of the Titans, the environment has become so polluted, thanks to Homer, that the whole city has to be moved some miles down the road to a new location so its citizens can start polluting anew.  I can't find an image of Springfield in motion, but here's one of the dump.

Springfield is transported on trucks rather than on its own legs, and of course a city on wheels has certain disadvantages compared with a city on legs, essentially that it  needs a road, or at least a smoothish track, to move on.  And of course this is a problem with all wheeled vehicles.  Fortunately, to remedy this various “futurists” or customizers have imagined a Volkswagen Beetle with legs, and have gone so far as to actually build a few of them.  Here's one in Nevada (if my memory serves), with your blogger underneath.

OK, such Beetles aren’t actually functional, and they don’t actually walk anywhere, they’re essentially works of the imagination, but you know so is Zodanga, so is Ron Herron’s Walking City.  Some of us can live with that.

The Archigram archive can be found here: