A Walking Exploration
Blacksburg Walks is a an exploration in geography, anthropology, community, pedagogy, food and walking. Both the process of creating the walks and this website, offering audio-walks to the campus and the community, are inspired by a sense of curiosity and committment. Blacksburg Walks wants to discover the imaginaries and practices of the people living in this place, it wants to explore the landscape that grows our food, holds our cars, and connects Appalachia to a globalized world. And above all, Blacksburg Walks wants to contribute to making Blacksburg walk. You get a different experience of place when you walk, the human scale of walking allows for a better understanding and perception of our cultural space. The more we walk, the more we know, the more we want to know.
Animal, Vegetable, Walkable
In the spring semester 2011, SPIA doctoral student Anja Haelg Bieri taught a special study class in the School of Public and International Affairs in Virginia Tech's College of Architecture and Urban Studies that set out to combine documentary art and urban geography. Anja has a background in social sciences and the performing arts and joins these disciplines into an aesthetic cultural geography. Inspired by that year's academic common book by Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, this class studied the geographies of food and environment in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Geography Meets Aesthetic Education
The class discovered the multiple layers of history, culture and politics in the Appalachian landscape and in the social practices of university and community members. Offering, in a first step, a theoretical framework allowing for a critical study of food production and consumption and sustainability discourses, the class, in a second step, learnt basic documentary research skills like interviewing, story telling and building a narrative, and composing sound. Walking and sensory perception were highlighted in this class' sensory approach to aesthetic education, since the project's outcome was to produce audio-walks through Blacksburg exploring the social relations of the local food and environment, and motivating people to experience the place-making aspects of walking in this context.
The third pedagogical moment was to learn how to join the theoretical framework and the research material into an aesthetic creation in the form of a sound composition for a guided audio walk. Next to dramaturgy, considerable software skills had to be managed by the students. Throughout the semester, students kept an online logbook to experiment with ideas, log their research, and steadily build their walk portfolio. The class was held in intense workshops in Blacksburg, and online, experimenting with online teaching and collaboration options, which all contributed to this unique kind of online and real mapping of food and environment we are offering here on this website.
Come And Take A Walk With Us
Four different audio-walks were produced: one with a general focus on sustainability in Blacksburg, one on wild edibles on the Virginia Tech campus, one on the relations between the phenomenon of instant gratification and 24/7 consumption, and one on the dynamics between personal and collective processes of defining choices in regards to the consumption and production of goods. A fifth contribution on water is in the making. And we welcome more ideas for future walks. We'd love to hear your ideas - write to Blacksburg Walks in our guestbook.
An Ongoing Community Project
While the project wishes to further the exchanges between the university and the Blacksburg community, a big part of its target audience is Virginia Tech's freshmen, offering them a guided exploration of the culture, geography and history of their new community. The walks are accessible online for anyone to download. Moreover, the website contains a community cookbook and a guestbook, hoping to receive further inputs from students and community members alike on facts and stories to complement the proposed walks and to keep the project ongoing.
This project came all the way from a budding idea I had in spring 2010, to an experimental, interdisciplinary class in SPIA's Urban Affairs and Planning and to this website, offering our walks and reaching out to anyone interested in walkable communities, food systems and a good load of fresh air. This work was encouraged by many wonderfully curious and supportive people that have helped me realise this project from the very beginning on. Patty Raun, Timothy W. Luke, Gerry Kearns and Tom Sanchez were the ones who supported the early idea and actually helped me make it happen in this form. Thank you for your confidence! My heartfelt thanks also go to all the people that have supported, collaborated, and inspired the project (in alphabetical order): Monica Appleby, Emily & Max Appleby, David Bieri, Brian Britt, Gardner Campbell, Stephen Capaldo, Truman Capone, Jack Davis, James Dustin, David Grimsley, Ralph Hall, Gwynn Hamilton, Sonia Hirt, Anne Khademian, Jason Lockhart, Chriss Mattsson-Coon, Elizabeth McCommon, Ashley Maynor, Terry Nicholson, Beth Offenbacker, Terry Papillon, Simone Paterson, Stewart Jeb Rawnsley, Derren Rosbach, Jennifer Sparrow, Brian Squibb, Ellen Stewart, Karen Till, David Wedin, Krystal Wright, Marc Zaldivar, and the student instructors at Innovation Space. My thanks also go to the students who participated in my class in Spring 2011 and who created these attentive walks through Blacksburg. It was great working with you!
Now stop surfing, and come and take a walk with us!