Walk Leader: zURBS urbanist collective
Text by: Nina Lund Westerdahl and Sabeth Tödtli
Photographs by: Nina Lund Westerdahl
A main shopping street: European cities tend to have one. Often it is busy. Often it is commercialized, filled with high-street and high-class brands. Nonetheless, while other Jane’s Walks this sunny Saturday focus on the unknown outskirts of town, zURBS has chosen to make theirs on Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse.
But how to rediscover a street that we know so well? What happens when a group of 20 people starts walking backwards? People stop, stare and laugh. Teenagers join in – not having the faintest clue what this is all about. Walking backwards, we feel the insecure movements of our bodies, and we notice the pavement’s texture. We wonder: When was the last time we did this?
What if we tried to focus on things not for sale on this highly commercialized street? We talk about lost history. We talk about imaginative history. Standing with our backs to that shopping mall we know so well, can we still tell what colour it is? Does the house next to it have balconies? And that main statue – is it female or male?
In our attempt to look at the street differently, we go blindfolded in the midst of the busy Saturday shopping crowd: How intimidating, having to trust our guide unconditionally. Now, all sounds seem louder, the street steeper. And how much stronger the flowers and the garbage smell. It is suddenly more legit to let our fingers stroke the surfaces of the houses: some rough, hard and hurtful, some smooth and powdery, almost inviting another touch. We grow almost comfortable with the blindfolds on. How liberating, not to care about the coffee shop’s yellow sale signs and the dodging of the tourists. Just walking slowly – listening – feeling – sensing. Two hours later, the most generic street in Zürich is transformed. We realize that if only we remember to play, rediscover, and sense our surroundings, the invisible qualities of our cities can indeed be uncovered.