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Movements of Communication: Spatial Analysis

Spatial Analysis of Eastlake and Lynn: Movements of Communication

AREA AS TEXT: The intersection at Eastlake and Lynn, including sidewalk space up to 15 feet North, 5 feet south of the corners themselves. The main focus is on the Northwest and Northeast corners.

DAYS AND TIMES OF OBSERVATION PERIOD: Friday March 3, 6:50 – 8:30 am, 10:30 am – 1:15 pm; Monday March 6, 6:45 – 9:15 am.

The spatial experiences remembered of Eastlake and Lynn are those created out of the intertwining and multi-functional spatial stories of the pedestrians and their environment. Spatial stories of pedestrians at the Northwest corner of the intersection are related most closely with the potential for commerce and “communication” – this is its “proper meaning.” The “proper meaning” of an urban landscape creates a “normative level to which [one] can compare the drifting of ‘figurative’” movement (De Certeau, “Walking” 100). It is, essentially, a meta-fiction used to measure how far the reality of spatial practices deviates from the norm. The “communication” occurs as pedestrians interact with their environment, as well as interacting with other pedestrians. This is reinforced by the “phatic topoi” of the area, or places where meaningful situations and communication can occur (De Certeau, “Walking” 99). The spatial stories of Eastlake and Lynn are highly localized around the coffee cart (during normal “business hours”), and the surrounding “phatic topoi;” the environment results in the enabling of communication within the physical movements of, and interactions between pedestrians.

The “proper meaning” of the crosswalk is set up to ensure the continual movement of traffic and pedestrians with a reasonable amount of safety, efficiency and regularity. It allows pedestrians safe and easy passage from one corner to another, promoting commerce and communication by minimizing the dangers associated with pedestrian-vehicle interactions. Belief in certain deontic values – the ethical or legal values of the “obligatory, the forbidden, the permitted, or the optional” (De Certeau, “Walking” 97) help the “proper meaning” to operate effectively. In order to function as intended by the “proper meaning,” certain assumptions must be made about the commitment of pedestrians and vehicles following the constructs of deontic values placed in social and regulatory laws (e.g. That vehicles will follow traffic lights, cars won’t drive on the sidewalk, pedestrians won’t run in front of traffic, etc.). But there are deviations in how the “proper meaning” is constructed to function, and how the space is actually exercised.

The majority of interdictions on the Northwest corner of Eastlake and Lynn that do not have a regulatory function in regard to traffic, typically have a “proper meaning” that is meant to create commerce or communication. The possibilities to routes chosen are blocked at times by interdictions (e.g. the pedestrian can’t walk through the newspaper dispenser; they have to go around it). These very interdictions also open possibilities to the range of motions carried out in the space – for instance, going around the newspaper stand opens the possibility of reading the front page of the paper or purchasing it; going around the back allows viewing of graffiti (a form of urban communication) that cannot be seen from the front or sides. The coffee cart allows for the possibility of buying coffee. The bike rack gives bicycle-enabled pedestrians the opportunity to lock up and enjoy a coffee or meal. By filling the “blank slate” of an empty sidewalk with objects that encourage communication, it changes the passage into a proper place, causing a change in the type of movement through the space.

By enabling a space to allow for encounters and commerce, it “turns or diverts an itinerary by giving it a meaning or direction previously unforeseen” (De Certeau, “Walking” 104). In Spatial Stories, De Certeau states that the interactions among pedestrians, “depends on a dynamic distribution of possible goods and functions […to create…] a complex network of differentiations, a combinative system of spaces. They result from the operation of distinctions resulting from encounters” (127). Thus, what may be a boundary or obstacle to a pedestrian may be precisely what becomes the meaning of their passage through the space. Also, by becoming such a moving boundary, it increases the probability of other interactions occurring.

Pedestrians who are not moving automatically become boundaries, but ones that are not stable; they are “transportable limits” that do not divide up the area but change the flow of movement in that space (De Certeau, “Spatial” 129). On the Northwest corner, near the coffee cart, the slow shuffle of a wandering, homeless man takes him past the newspaper dispensers in search of forgotten coins; he becomes a “transportable limit” – other pedestrians give him a wide berth as they move around the space he occupies, and even avoid the space he leaves behind him (presumably because of the smell). Even the absence in space that the homeless man has left behind him is a moving boundary, as the space (temporarily) remembers him by scent. These four adjacent newspaper dispensers are a hub for communication on Eastlake and Lynn. At the front of them, pedestrians can be seen to walk bent over at the waist, scanning the front pages in a slow, sidestep motion. Some even squat, partially blocking the remainder of the sidewalk. Not only have the “phatic topoi” changed the way these pedestrians walk, but have changed the spatial stories of other pedestrians that, necessarily, move around those who have paused.

During busy times, the line at the coffee cart is a “transportable limit” that marks off, or “describes” the spatial stories through the displacement of pedestrian movement through space (De Certeau, “Spatial” 116). It is usually scattered in a somewhat linear fashion, but is somewhat irregular. The patrons seem to remember where they stand in conjunction to the other patrons. This space is, “composed of intersections of mobile elements,” and the pedestrian stories are, “actuated by the ensemble of movements” (De Certeau, “Spatial” 117). Due to the interruption of their spatial stories by other pedestrians, and by the forward progress to the head of the line, spatial stories changed often. Pedestrians at the coffee cart were observed to move, alter, rearrange or form the line in different spatial arrangements several times in a short period of time. Although it did not appear to affect the “proper meaning” of the area (purchasing coffee), it altered their individual spatial stories and the memories they attach to that particular moment (e.g. happiness at running into a friend, or irritation at being bumped into). The function of the line did not change; it was still a moving interdiction, or obstacle, that must be passed through or entered into.

Patterns of movement are often less regulated by the “proper meaning” of a place, and more by “interdictions” (things that prevent movement, such as a wall) and “transportable limits” (moving boundaries); they create a potential for change in the trajectory and unique spatial sentencing of the pedestrian. The “phatic topoi” of the area (eg. message boards, coffee cart, newspaper dispensers, bike racks, narrowness of passage) encourages communication, and creates a space where the meaning of everyday life occurs. It gives significance to the pedestrian utilization of the space. The newspaper dispensers could be utilized as trash receptacles (as one was observed to be), or used as message boards for communication (such as graffiti). Sitting next to the coffee cart might be for the pedestrian to warm up beneath the hanging heat lamp, rather than to make a purchase. The purposes may be altered, but are still a driving force behind the creation of spatial stories. For instance, two pedestrians on separate and different trajectories came together at the storefront of the 14 Carrot. The woman was observed to have come from the office building; the man’s trajectory landed him at the bus stop after their encounter. The abundance of stimuli that slowed down the woman at the coffee stand allowed their paths to cross. An embrace was exchanged with their conversation before the woman returned to the office building, now owning a concrete experience to mark the day as different from others. Not only has it created a synecdoche in space (e.g. the place in Eastlake where she takes a break and purchases coffee), but also in time (e.g. today she ran into an old friend) that marks it apart of others. It has become a synecdochic emblem that represents the whole of Eastlake, as well as a moment that will be remembered as representing a part of her day.

The “phatic topoi,” by using physical communication (the interaction of pedestrian to objects) in combination with the visual (interaction of pedestrian to visual stimuli) creates the communication between pedestrians and other pedestrians. The coffee cart is a prime example of the results of “phatic topoi.” First, as the area is covered in forms of communication (fly posts, posters, comics on the side of the bar, newspaper dispensers, graffiti), it requires visual time. It takes time to read written language, take in colors and objects, and understand the context in which they appear. This automatically slows down the gait of the pedestrian, as does the narrowness of the passage itself. This, in turn, slows the progress “through” the area for other pedestrians, and increases the possibility of their entering into the situation themselves. Communication creates more of itself and carries the momentum forward.

The close quarters and connectivity of these different spatial stories creates the importance of the space, and as it is these very memories that tie pedestrians to a particular place, it gives the neighborhood its personality (De Certeau, “Walking” 108). Movement in the area surrounding the coffee cart reflects the many spatial stories being told at once. Pedestrians move through the space quickly (e.g. joggers), or slow the rapidity of their movement to purchase coffee, read the newspaper and converse with other pedestrians. Some pedestrians use it as a waiting or smoking area for the 14 Carrot. It is utilized as a break zone, a place to exchange information, stories, rumors, and urban folklore. Instead of simply viewing the area (or, non-viewing and skipping the experience by asyndeton), it becomes a point in space that is a remembered part of the whole. It becomes a point of synecdoche for the pedestrian (the coffee cart is a synecdochic emblem that represents Hines Market, the Hines Market characterizes the corner of Eastlake and Lynn, the intersection is a symbol for the entire street Eastlake, and the street itself if a representation of the Eastlake district as a whole). It is these, “fragmentary and inward turning histories,” that accumulate over time, creating the discrete experiences of individual pedestrians that can only be expressed later, or observed by an outsider, as reflecting, “a fleeting glimmer [of] a spatial practice” (De Certeau, “Walking” 108). It is the alethic value (the possibility) of both commerce and of social interactions that create the draw to this space.

The motive behind the pedestrians’ entry into the area (whether they are a jogger or office employee, for instance) makes a difference on how the formal text of the city is utilized. The properties of the area surrounding the tree nearest the coffee cart takes up 2 x 2 sidewalk squares (four squares total). The tree itself only occupies approximately 8 inches diameter in the center. However, depending on the function of the pedestrian, this area’s epistemological value fluctuated between that of an area that is either excluded from, or is accepted as plausible walking space. The notable difference appeared, on observation, to be the type of shoe the pedestrians wore. Those pedestrians assumed to be employees at the office wore dress shoes, while other pedestrians wore casual or athletic shoe types. Pedestrian in casual or athletic shoes appeared to have no problem walking in the unpaved area surrounding the tree, while those in dress shoes excluded it from the area viewed as proper to walk through. Their perception of the space changed not only where they walked, but who they came in close proximity to. Therefore, it changed the type of communication they experienced with other pedestrians, as well as their physical communication with the surrounding environment. The observations of the crosswalk had different results. It was not the exclusion of walking space that was observed, but the inclusion of shortcuts into the trajectories of pedestrians.

At the crosswalk, despite the deontic nature of the area clearly demarcated for walking, pedestrians use this regulated space as only a guideline. The slowly eroding paint on the outside border of Eastlake’s Northern crosswalk is physical evidence of the resistance to the “proper meaning” of the city; it marks what is missing from the topographical map – the trajectories of the pedestrians. Thus, it highlights the glaring absence of what actually happened within the crosswalk. It leaves only traced patterns of more frequented footfalls, but not, “the act itself of passing by,” nor the pedestrians’ reasons for communicating such a spatial story (De Certeau, “Walking” 97). The actual trajectories across Eastlake were often shaped as hyperboles, or an inverted and doubled “U” shape, with the tails facing North and South. Crossing Lynn the trajectory itself was typically straight, though sometimes deviating in a line parallel to the crosswalk. Pedestrians typically moved in the zone perceived to be “safe” (based on the belief that basic social and regulatory rules applying to driving will be followed), but with their own trajectory in mind (literally, cutting corners to achieve the shortest distance to their destination).

Although pedestrians utilized discreteness in their choice of shortcuts, it was within the pre-set deontic values of the intersection, a behavior psychologically linked to a fear of discipline. No pedestrians were observed to take the shortest route possible (even when there was no traffic), walking from either the Northeast to the Southwest corner, or the Northwest to the Southeast corner. To cross in this fashion would be a blatant disregard and resistance to the “proper meaning” of the crosswalk. Foucault, in Panopticism, states that visibility is the best deterrent to acting against regulations, as the pedestrian never knows whether they are being observed, and whether those observing have the power to enforce discipline (such as a jaywalking ticket); it is “unverifiable” (201). There were construction workers present (sign holders; those who stopped regular traffic to allow large construction vehicles to navigate the area), who carry enough authority to regulate traffic beyond the available function of the traffic signals. Also present were other pedestrians (walkers), consumers, and employees and patrons of the 14 Carrot (which has a window that runs the length of the front of the building) who have a clear, mostly unobstructed view of the intersection. In this case, the pedestrians’ conscious awareness of the possibility for discipline, “[renders] it’s actual exercise unnecessary” (Foucault 201). Though no police officers were known to be present, the regulatory laws were mostly followed. Still, at the same time, the laws were bent to the intended trajectory of the pedestrian.

As all pedestrians play a part in the “see/being seen dyad,” each helps build upon the list of “exceptions to the rules” in the intersection (Foucault 202). How far it is policed is mainly up to those who utilize and occupy the space. Through verbal communication and body language, it can be known which behaviors deviating from the regulatory norm are acceptable (by a lack of reaction), or not acceptable (through negative reactions, such as: raised eyebrows, angry looks, “the finger”). Each individual is integrated into the process of the “accumulation and centralization of knowledge” through interactions at places (such as the coffee cart) that encourage these, “circuits of communication” (217 Foucault). It is clear upon observations that some illegal behaviors at Eastlake and Lynn are viewed as acceptable. For instance, take the example of the crosswalk signs: the signs facing East-West say “Don’t Walk” a full ten seconds before the traffic signal actually turns red. Those who know this space utilized a normal pace walking across the street despite the “Don’t Walk” sign. Those who do not were observed to stop at the crosswalk, and then run across against the light. Still others followed the regulations of the space and waited. Obstruction of movement through the area would result in a delay or elimination of a small portion of the communication and commerce the area is intended for. However, as it is not obstructed by this particular law-breaking, the behavior is accepted as a normal spatial practice at this intersection; it is not something to be disciplined.

The social standards and the lack of “phatic topoi” at the bus stop on the Northeast corner of Eastlake and Lynn regulates the majority of outward pedestrian behavior. As De Certeau says in Spatial Stories, the movements of the pedestrians are based on conventions that, “operate within the aggregate of heterogeneous spaces that have already been created and established” (126) by the repeated experience to the customary behaviors of commuters. The buses come approximately every 18 minutes, Northbound; pedestrians were observed to walk hurriedly to the stop, then settle into the wait. The first arrival typically occupies the area closest to the bus stop sign, but along the inside track (farthest from the street) of the sidewalk. The second usually stands approximately 5 feet away, also along the inside track. Subsequent pedestrians fill in the spaces, each standing 2 ½ to 3 feet apart in a nearly straight line that grows southward. Despite the availability of space to occupy, this pattern (or patterns incredibly similar) recurred with each new set of pedestrian commuters. The openness of the sidewalk allots each pedestrian their own personal space, and the lack of interdictions and visual stimuli results in a subsequent lack of movement and interaction. Behaviors observed were exclusionary, and included: pacing, shuffling of weight from foot to foot, and talking on cellular phones. These made up the majority of actions taken, thus presumably make up the alethic (possible) modalities of movement deemed appropriate in this space. There were digressions from the typical behavior: One pedestrian was observed to create his own very stylized spatial story. While waiting for the bus, the pedestrian listened to music in his headphones, dancing. However, by wearing headphones it removed the possibility of interaction with others, interacting only with his music and the environment; it did not encourage communication.

The lack of interaction and movement related back to the lack of “phatic topoi” present at the bus stop. Interestingly, though there are chairs and benches across the street at the coffee cart, none exist at the bus stop. This is further assurance of communication in the space surrounding the coffee cart, as it draws potential customers from the non-engaging space surrounding the bus stop. There is nothing to ensure communication at the bus stop; thus, communication does not take place. Each, instead, sets themselves up in their own area reserved as personal space. However, once within the “borders” of the individual pedestrians’ space, stylistic movements enunciate how they wait for the bus to arrive. A female pedestrian was observed to trace the outlines of the sidewalk squares with her feet, effectively creating invisible borders and then escaping them by creating another parallel or perpendicular line, thus expanding her “territory.” Linking the act of tracing of borders to her actual footsteps (which put her outside her described territory), opens “meanings and directions” that wear away the primary role of the invisible boundaries she had created to avoid communication (De Certeau, “Walking” 105). However, these subtle suggestions in her movements are not as overt as “phatic topoi,” thus are missed or ignored by other pedestrians and does not manifest communication between them.

It is said that “the people make the place;” in other words, that the people within a space are what give a space meaning – however, this is only a partial truth. The environment itself must encourage communication between people to make remembered experiences occur. The coffee cart had an abundance of “interdictions” and “transportable limits” that disrupted the movement of pedestrians, and it is these that cause the communication between pedestrians. To a certain extent, “the place makes the people;” without a space that promotes interaction, interaction doesn’t occur. The bus stop exemplifies the importance of “phatic topoi” to communication. Indeed, it would appear that “the people make the place,” and, “the place makes the people.” The observations of Eastlake and Lynn show that these statements are both opposite and equivocal, though neither is a complete truth without the other.




Works Cited

De Certeau, Michel. “Spatial Stories.” The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press. Los Angeles, CA: 1984.

De Certeau, Michel. “Walking In the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press. Los Angeles, CA: 1984.

Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discipline and Punish. Pantheon Books, NY: 1977.



© Michelle Ferris 3/10/2006

English 281 C: S. Frey


Leave a Comment
  1. Farin Lee / Sep 28 2010 7:26 pm

    You did a lot about an intersection! This is great – well written analysis. And pretty funny, too. In a nerdy kind of way.

  2. J Gresham / Oct 4 2010 7:14 pm

    I like this. Very thoughtful.

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