This is a big topic, and I’m not good at keeping sprawling tentacles of a big topic under control, but I’ll try anyway. (On my day job, I’m told, over and over, that people don’t give a damn and would not read even 2 lines of text. That’s probably true, and I don’t blame these “people” given the amount of crap text out there written by marketers like myself. But I digress.)
Flaneur, the Urban Explorer on Foot
So… Flaneur. What’s that? It’s a French word (oh, fancy) for more or less a stroller. The mental image of a flâneur in my mind is a learned gentleman of means who walks his own city aimlessly–or rather, with the sole aim of exploring his own city for exploration’s sake. He pays attention. He reads the streets and all their details–the architecture, people of many streaks, restaurants, stores, cafés and bars, shifting neighborhoods and the interactions of all these elements that make up a city.
The act of walking one’s own city with attention is called flânerie, although between Flaneur and Flaneuette, we tend to (ab)use “flaneur” as both a noun (“I’m a flaneur.”) and a verb (“Let’s go flaneuring today”). Balzac said it’s a “gastronomy of the eye,” which really captures the essence: flaneuring is in some ways for the privileged to savor the city. The city may not always be pretty or savory, but encountering the un-pretty and unsavory is also a form of savoring the city, as long as the flaneur stays above having to deal with the unsavory.
Flaneur and flanerie already existed in 17th century, apparently, but didn’t really gain their full meaning until the 19th century when the activity became somewhat de rigueur for the intellectual “it” set and for those who aspired to be a part of that set. Wikipedia quotes Anaïs Bazin as writing that “the only, the true sovereign of Paris is the flaneur.”
Whoever Bazin is, the quote captures that sense of pride and accomplishment that we, Flaneur and Flaneutte, hold close to heart–we know our city, the giant metropolis that is New York City, far more extensively and intimately than the vast majority of our fellow inhabitants. And this knowledge comes from walking all the street, being attentive to and appreciative of what others might not even notice. Flaneuring itself is rooted–at least partially–in privilege, but through flaneuring, we earn a different kind of privilege, which is to know our city and to belong to a loose, exclusive club of people who hold and appreciate this kind of relationship with the city.
When I see someone on a random side street who is dressed and shod comfortably (but not like–gasp–a tourist) with curiosity in their eyes, I wonder if we belong to the same club. I never ask, but sometimes I almost know, and I feel that the other person does, too.
(People develop other kinds of knowledge of, and relationship with, their own cities, of course. Some of these are far more exclusive, sometimes based on birthright. Hearing two guys at Bronx Brewery exchange banter about neighborhoods in The Bronx where they grew up was a recent reminder.)
Flaneur and Flanuette, i.e., Us and This Site
Flaneur, with capital F, is a Philly-born web developer, a visual philosopher and collector of random tidbits at heart. Flaneuette is a marketer with a Japanese upbringing who is in love with words. Two hedonists united in the pleasure of discovery, we’ve walked New York City quite a bit, running into awesome, underappreciated neighborhoods and eating delicious foods of this incredible city.
Originally, this site started out as an attempt to walk every block of New York City. We were going to call it the “Weave Project.” We thought it would be a cool project after walking maybe 60-70% of Manhattan streets below Central Park plus bits of the other boroughs already, many of them scores of times. In just two weeks, though, we realized that walking 6,074 miles of streets in NYC is probably not going to happen in our lifetime unless we win a lottery or a previously unknown uncle leaves us a surprise inheritance.
Even more fundamentally, attempting a few “weave” walks where we tried to walk the streets systematically, going East on one street, then going West on the next and so forth, made it pretty clear that our natural flaneuring inclinations, which is to say our tendency to meander over to whatever catches our fancy at the moment, were not particularly conducive to a rigorous, sticking-to-the-prearranged-plan-no-matter-what kind of walks that a project of this kind would require. (We did learn a few things doing the walks the “weave” way.)
As it stands now, the site is about walking New York City (that doesn’t just mean Manhattan–for the record!) and enjoying every last minute of it.