Monday, 10 January 2011

Field Study's man in search of a statement

Where are Waltham Forest’s public paths for use only by pedestrians; in particular, paths away from the roadside?

Discovering and walking footpaths and passage ways new to me is an opportunity to break with a habitual sense of place. In a broader social context I assumed my discoveries were well trodden and if not so well trodden then well plotted and traced. What land or ground is not charted in great detail by the local authority and numerous other public/commercial organisations?

Freewheeler has prompted me to question my assumptions about the extent to which the local authority (London Borough of Waltham Forest) has mapped our public rights of way (PROW). This concerns the borough council’s legal responsibility to produce a definitive map and statement (of PROW) and make them/it available to the public.

In January 2008, Freewheeler reported there was no definitive map for the entire borough. The absence of a definitive map of public rights of way in the borough represented a lifelong municipal failure of 43 years. It seems the council has been reluctant to learn to walk or, at least, effectively promote the benefits of walking - perhaps due to a case of increasingly middle aged prevarication and procrastination.

My notion of a mythical labyrinth of footpaths in the borough might not be so fanciful. Freewheeler thinks some paths have been rendered secret and neglected via a scandalous abandonment of statutory duty to the pedestrian, in favour of the private motorist.

In the field, my notion of a network of lost fragments of footpaths and passageways has an appeal as a sort of raw material for an artistic and/or affected exploration; nowhere but Shangri La indeed. This affectation could be a lonely wander or vagary in which I just about realise the severity of the exclusion of many pedestrians from public space - unless the space is retail orientated. How well used or frequented are the rights of way?

In September, I collaborated on a guided walk for the E17 Art Trail, and the experience of leading a large group of walkers through the streets was not always ‘easy’. The presence of a group of people on the streets in anything other than fearful submission (to the car) was not greeted (by some motorists) with humility or courtesy. How artful a welcome was this?

Nearly 3 years on from Freewheelers post what has become of the council’s filibuster? Back then, reluctance made way for an improvement plan which involved, in part, looking for funds to find more funds to fund the improvement plan. I fear this might have amounted to a circular walk(?) around the office, cap or bucket in hand, although this scepticism about the progress of the project is not meant to underestimate the complexity of the mapping process.

So, what information can be found on the LBWF website in January 2011?

How does this information compare to neighbouring boroughs?

How does information and access to the definitive maps and statements compare further afield?

In an altered state of Shangri La all the pieces of pathway might come together to form one whole network of walking bliss; a ragged edged utopia fantastically creative in its’ potential for happiness or is it deterrence and cruelty?

George Edward Roebuck, wrote in, The Story of Walthamstow (1952):

‘It must, however, be borne in mind that Wilcumestou was the ‘welcome place’, and if thirteen centuries ago our parish was entitled to such a happy description, we can only trust that the many variations in the name which time has witnessed have not lessened our claim to be considered a happy community’. (P.6)

G E Roebuck theorises that pilgrims emerged with relief from the dark forest, at Wilcumestou, whilst on their way to the shrines of London.

Tonight I shall go in search of the ghosts of many an ancient and welcomed pilgrim who decided to linger in the welcome place.

Footpaths by night 9/1/11

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