What is a Story Walk?
A Story Walk is a 20 minute walk that can take place over a lunch hour. The walk is punctuated by several way markers, poetic engagements with the environment. It could be described as an urban hack of a celtic labyrinth, or a Japanese garden in the streets. Poetic engagement with the environment that directs attention toward beauty, possibility, and an alternative ecology of meaning.
You are busy. The problem is you sometimes skip over the stillness in your life. Rather than flitter forever toward the next thing, you’d like to stop now and again and just breathe.
Often, it feels as though you are skipping and flittering to the demands of a narrative that is not your own.
How might you recapture your own narrative? How might you recapture a more human narrative?
Story Walks are a starting point.
Where do I find Story Walks?
Well, you and your friends have to make them first.
How do I make a Story Walk?
1. CHART a 20 minute walk through your neighbourhood.
Walk for 10 minutes.
Walk back to where you started.
Remember where you went.
Make a map of your route
It’s kinda that simple
2. DENOTE a few points of pause
(release your inner poet)
A Point of Pause articulates your particular and unique insight into a particular place. It is insight that comes from your understanding of what was in that place, or what is in that place, or what could be in that place. Your insight voices your hopes, dreams and imagination. Release your inner poet, or artist, or writer, or photographer, or videographer.
Put your Story Walk maps in a public place in your neighbourhood.
So, tell me a bit more about why I’d want to do this.
Cities are extraordinary examples of human creative capacity. To live in city is to live in an constructed and mediated environment, a built environment. A built environment is a physical manifestation of assumptions about how the world works and how it should work, a manifestation of an unspoken narrative we all assume to be true.
But our built enviroment can and often is co-opted by all kinds of competing bureaucratic and corporate agendas. So the narratives we live by are often not our own, they are given to us, part and parcel with our built environment. Quietly, consistently asserting themselves into every nook and cranny of our lives.
If you live in a city you can’t help but notice that the narratives on offer, while they are conducive to producing and consuming, aren’t necessarily conducive to human flourishing.
In my city, Vancouver, we are constantly offered condo developer’s narratives. Marketing material of shiny happy people engaged in enviable lifestyles. Unfortunately the true narrative of most of these condos is one of “social isolation” as an expansive city wide study has called it. The market narrative offers a shiny lifestyle narrative, what it actually delivers is a narrative of deserved loneliness. (Your loneliness can’t possibly be the fault of your shiny environment, it must be your fault.)
People the world over are discovering that the narratives of built environments aren’t necessarily conducive to human flourishing.
What if Story Walks could embrace the quiet poetic insight within all of us? What if they tapped into the collective human insight of a neighbourhood and ignited imagination? And what if this collective disruptive imagination could break neighbourhoods out of what we settle for and into wide open possibility?
Story Walks are part of a global movement to re-narrate the accepted but ill fitting structural narratives of our cities. Story Walks re-imagine an alternative narrative built on the collective vision of the world we all want, an alternative narrative of joy and wellbeing, an alternative narrative of human flourishing.
I can’t do much by myself, I need help beyond myself. But a city is so large as to be abstract. Neighbourhoods operate on a human scale. That’s why Story Walks are all about neighbourhoods, they are part of a global and connected movement toward neighbourhood and neighbour.
Okay, I think I’m going to try this, but I don’t have clue.
First of all, no one has a clue, least of all us. Second, the beauty of Story Walks is they’ll look different in every neighbourhood because there are different people in every neighbourhood. There’s no right way to do a Story Walk, just try something and tell us about it.
How to: CREATE A POINT OF PAUSE
Stand on a corner in your neighbourhood.
No, you can’t just imagine it.
Yes, you have to actually go and stand there.
—What do you think about?
—What would you like people to notice?
—When you stand right here, what do you dream about?
—When you stand right here, what is possible?
A Point of Pause could be:
—A contemplative thought
—An inspirational thought
—A written paragraph
—The url of a website that has links to your Points of Pause.
—A simple YouTube video
—A physical manipulation of the environment (chalk art, sculptural manipulations of existing objects, street art, installations, guerrilla sculpture)
How to: CURATE A POINT OF PAUSE
Ask yourself “Who in my neighbourhood has little or no voice?”
—Go find those people.
—Tell them about Story Walks.
—Ask them if they’d like to contribute.
—Go to the location of the first Point of Pause.
—Ask them the questions from “Creating a Point of Pause.”
—Record their answer.
—Repeat for each Point of Pause.
Ask yourself “Who is the most poetic person in this neighbourhood?”
—Go find that person
—Repeat above steps
Ask yourself “Who knows about the history of my neighbourhood?”
—Go find those people.
—Repeat above steps.
Ask yourself “Who’s ethinicity and mother tongue are different than mine?”
—Go find those people
—Repeat above steps.
Ask yourself “Who’s day to day experience is most different from mine?”
—Go find those people
—Repeat above steps
How to: SHARE A MAP: SIMPLE VERSION (you can do this):
—Cut an 8.5″x11″ piece of paper in half.
—On one side draw a map of your walk.
—Include the distance and timed length of your walk
—Include little numbered circles at each Point of Pause.
—On the other side write your numbered Points of Pause
—Photocopy your Story Walk map and guide.
—Put the photocopies in a public place in your neighbourhood.
—Make new Story Walk maps available each month.
Here’s an example of a simple map:
I made this map for the Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood. It’s an example of a super easy Story Walk Map anyone can do. Try the QR code, it should work.
SHARE A MAP ALL COMPLICATED LIKE:
—Host your maps on on the web. Build community around making and sharing maps
—Build a smart phone app that people can use to access your Story Walk maps.
So, what good will this do?
The simple structure of a repeated walk is a safe haven from relentless novelty, a refuge for our imagination. Story Walks take seriously our embodied nature. We know and live through our bodies. By directing and caring for our bodies we direct and care for our thoughts. A Story Walk makes space for poetic insight which makes space for our shared humanity.
A Story walk doesn’t engage people with a hypothetical neighbourhood. It engages people with their own neighbourhood. With their own story, with their neighbour’s story.
The story of neighbourhoods are predominantly told by corporations and institutions. The buildings, infrastructure and systems quietly and consistently tell us we are first and most importantly consumers and producers. It’s easy for our humanity to get lost. It’s easy for our own story; our true hopes, dreams, work and living to get lost.
By taking a 20 minute Story Walk people from the neighbourhood experience the insight of their neighbours, they experience the subversive breathing lived story of their neighbourhood.
At the same time Story Walks are a simple thing anyone can do. By making a Story Walk everyone in the neighbourhood can add their insights to the breathing lived story of their neighbourhood.
THE BENEFITS OF WALKING, LABYRINTHS AND RITUAL.
Walking is associated with many health benefits including:
—Reducing the risk of coronary heart disease
—Lowering blood pressure
—Reducing high cholesterol
—Reducing body fat
—Enhancing mental wellbeing
—Increasing bone density
—Reducing the risk of cancer of the colon
—Helping to control body weight
—Helping to increase flexibility and co-ordination
Celtic labyrinths were geometric paths drawn on the ground and were meant to be an aid to meditation and contemplation. You simply walked, following the path, into the middle of the labyrinth and then back out. The benefits of labyrinths, while anecdotal, is profound. They are physiologically calming and psychologically centering. It seems the ancient Celts knew what they were doing, as the phenomenon of the labyrinth experience in health care, in prisons, in schools, is now being studied in an empirical way. (Here’s a good resource with links to lots of reading including Master’s and Phd thesis on the subject: http://labyrinthsociety.org/home)
Three drop dead rules.
1. ABSTRACTION & IDEOLOGY FREE ZONE.
Story Walks are rooted in a place. It’s about your particular and unique insight into a particular and unique place. Particular place, particular people. Start there. Stay there.
2. EGO FREE ZONE.
Story Walks are a celebrity mongering free zone. It’s freedom from other’s people’s ego, and freedom from your own ego. The neighbourhood is the star.
3. AGENDA FREE ZONE.
NO ADS. RELIGION FREE.
If you’re on board for making a better neighbourhood, hey let’s be friends.
Story Walks are never to be used to sell things, not even ideas. A Story Walk is a break from human interaction predicated on commercial exchange.
Story Walks are for people who want to care for the spiritual dimension of themselves, but maybe they’re burned out on religion. The people who created Story Walks are people of faith, but they hold this verse dearly: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt. 11:28-30) That’s Jesus talking by the say, the person Christians say they follow.
Story walks are for people who need a real rest, who want to live freely and lightly. Period.