Chance Encounters: How a San Francisco City Planner and Skateboarder Experience Space
Standing slightly awkwardly at an old co-worker’s party, I began to chat with the person next to me. However we seemed to immediately fall into friendship- that understanding- a recognition of the other. He’s a city planner working for San Francisco and helping to manage renovation and construction of our city parks. My Master’s degree focused on studying theories around how we move through space and the ways the body engages with our environment and other people. We quickly fell into a giddy share discussing sense perception, park layouts, dancing through space and a love for looking at city streets.
He’s currently working with several artists to build the first central park space in Ingleside. For the project they are working with the community to create relevant ways of expressing the neighborhood’s narrative. I felt myself humming from the idea of collaborating in this way- constructing space with community- and I feel proud to live in a city that places value in this kind of project.
With the growth of the tech industry and increased housing prices there is a definite pace to the city- people wake up and they have things to do and places to go. If you want to live here you have to hustle to survive rent, $5 coffee and Lyft rides. But in this activity are we slowing down enough to enjoy the fruits of this city?
Traditionally San Francisco has been a space where people come to be- be their weird self. I hate to admit that Dolores park is not a love of mine- filled with too hip hipsters and scattered beer cans it often feels like a place to be seen more than to admire the palm tree city view. I still chill at Dolores, but I have other parks to wander when I look for that feeling of recharging- feeling alive- connected to my space.
My hope is that people participate with their space: to look, to walk new routes, to pass beautiful things, and so have space to be.
At another gathering, standing possibly awkwardly again, a tall man walked straight up to me and with a simple hello we began a conversation lasting until 6am. He and his friend’s are skateboarders and skateboarders that film skateboarders. I’ve always respected skating in a similar way that I look up to parkour, surfing, martial arts and rock climbing. They require a deep sense of body awareness and a connection to one’s environment.
The use of improvisation in these practices is quite amazing- you can’t know that ledge to jump over until you turn the corner, the wave that will swoop you to a new height, or the rock that perfectly pulls you up over the cliff. These activities require a presence of perception and the ability to read and react to one’s environment in a way that excites me.
My tall friend described his skating process as creative decision making- you enter an open space and it’s up to you how to envision moving through it. Appropriately we discussed these ideas while climbing fences, pausing on benches and walking the streets.
In thinking about the ways each of us feel inspired to move, we are all called to experience space in unique ways. There is a wide spectrum of how we experience our surroundings.
The hummingbird effect describes the ways a lineage of often mundane inventions and projects lead the way to unanticipated discoveries. For instance, the printing press created a surge in glasses, causing more people to research lenses, which made way for the invention of the microscope and thus the discovery that our body is made of cells. In this way, we can never know the repercussions of the work that we do. It is important to respect and recognize that the doings of others are always linked to us and that our creative endeavors may have unknown impacts.
You may be a city planner thinking about mural steps and the Farmer’s Market, but your space may also inspire the ultimate skating ride. We cannot possibility anticipate all the ways we impact one another and this is a beautiful thing.
It is our job to walk along our path and in that process we aid others on their journey. It is our job to do our work and to allow others to do theirs. Walking through the park I smiled thinking of my chance encounters- I twirled around the street light, I balanced on the curb, I sat on the fallen tree and I decided to let myself do my dance.