Walking the Edge: The interstitiality of the Blackwater Valley Path

The familiar brown wayfinding signs of the Blackwater Valley Path, with the blue route markers in the bottom right corner

I’ve lived in the Blackwater Valley area for nearly a decade now, and as a keen runner and walker, I have frequently come across the wayfinding infrastructure of the Blackwater Valley Path. It became one of those ritualistic things whereby I would mentally log that I needed to research the path when I got back home, but as per usual, the task slipped from memory as the drudgery of the fog of daily life kicked back in after the mental clarity of a run. So it’s little surprise to be honest that it has taken nearly ten years (9 years, and 6 months 2 weeks and 3 days to be precise) to finally research the route, get up to fitness and most difficult, find a spare day to walk the whole 23 miles of the Blackwater Valley Path.

But why did I feel so drawn to it? What is it about a relatively random collection of pathways that have been transformed and manicured by the good folk at the Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust from a site of industrialised landscape extraction to a network of middle-class leisure and residential pursuits over the last 40 years or so? The answer is simply ‘because geography’. Or perhaps more disciplinarily, cultural geography.

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit as urbanist critique

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Doom v Rabbit or Moses v Jacobs?

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) is no doubt a classic film. It was technologically innovate, and spliced the detective film-noir genre with the comic, slapstick animation of classic ‘toons of the 1960s and 70s. Truly, a masterpiece of Hollywood cinema, and if you are not familiar with the film, you can read a great review of it here. One aspect though that often goes unnoticed is the urbanist narrative that runs through the film’s plot. It is set in 1947, and essentially, ‘Judge Doom’, the evil protagonist of the film, is plotting to destroy ‘Toontown’ (the suburb of Los Angeles where the animated characters live) and replace with a freeway. The film therefore is very much a critique on the ‘freeway-ization’ of LA, with overt glorification of the city’s transit-orientated past. Such a mantra is signposted early on in the film with the main hero ‘Eddie’ sitting on the back of a trolley car proclaiming, “Who needs a car in L.A.? We got the best public transportation system in the world!”

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The Americana, transit-orientated history depicted in the film

In his famous villain’s speech where he reveals his dastardly plan to the heroes, he claims that the freeways will revolutionise LA, and create a vast automobile-based city that will “be beautiful”. You can see his speech in the video below.

This short segment highlights one the film’s most overt social critiques, namely that of the automobile dominated city that Los Angeles had become in 1988, and still is to this day (relatedly, you can read about my day-long trip around LA by car in search of the film locations of The Terminator films here, and my ode to UK motorways here). With this narrative in mind, it becomes extremely obvious that ‘Judge Doom’ and Toontown are simply comic metaphors for the classic urbanism argument of ‘walkability’, most readily articulated by the battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Read More

Motorways as Lefebvrian Urbanisation

Spaghetti Junction in the Midlands – a wonderful transportation palimpsest

Those of you in the know will perhaps shudder at the amount of time I spend hurtling up and down various stretches of England’s motorway network (all within the speed limit of course and always keeping left unless overtaking). The banality of the endless asphalt whizzing by with only 5live to keep me company (any other station requires constant retuning) can, at times, be infuriating when all you see is a line of sleek black snaking into the horizon punctured by red brake lights; but also simultaneously some of the most explicitly urban encounters one can ever achieve.  Read More