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Steps on Concrete and Thoughts in the City

Taylor Milne's picture

My day in the city accompanied by Louise, Sara and Ava began as an adventure, free of restrictions except needing to be back at the Free Public Library by 3:00. Our group decided that instead of choosing a place or two to spend our day, we would just wander and see where the concrete streets would take us. We soon found ourselves outside of the Rodin Museum, were we were able to see the copies of the sculptures he created many years ago, each one full of varied but deep human emotions. We then found ourselves walking to the sculpture garden behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where we were able to interact with the art. We climbed on the sculptures that looked like worms reaching towards the sky, we sat above a modern fountain and felt the water move between our fingers underneath us. We then found a mountain of rocks that we chose to climb, giving us a beautiful view of the river. We chose to experience rather than plan, we made the decision to play.

Our day was serendipitous, if we saw something that interested us, we would go and explore it, no matter the distance, and no matter the chance of having it be unexciting and a waste of time. Eventually we found ourselves sitting down at the river, legs dangling over the edge above the water, where we ate organic and local snacks and drinks that we had purchased at a small little shop along the river. Throughout the day I found myself walking up streets I was completely unfamiliar with, smelling the cigarette smoke, and the dirt and the grime, the city and the people. I found myself running my hands along the texture of the city, and feeling the walls, walking over the cracks and potholes in the ground, all cumulating together to create the architecture of Philadelphia.

I found our trip reminiscent of the essay by Sunstein titled “So Much for Serendipity in Personalized News,” were in Philadelphia represented the old style of newspapers, were people had the opportunity of discovering things they would have never expected beforehand. In regards to journalism, Sunstein writes, “Newspapers create what we might call an architecture of serendipity, in which readers encounter all sorts of stories, facts, ideas and opinions that they didn’t select. Much of what they encounter seems boring, irritating, wrong or offensive, but on occasion it turns out to be surprising, delightful, alarming, important and even life-changing.” Although not much of what I encountered today was boring or irritating, much of it was unexpected. I had no expectations of what the trip would be like, and because of this I feel as if I was more open to the serendipity of it all. I would say that even though Sunstein writes directly about journalism and newspapers, I feel that many people could say the same about cities and the world in general. Now that we have iPhones, Facebook, and Yelp, everyone reduces their interests into these outlets to find restaurants, shows, museums, and events that align with the things that interest them. With so much going on in the city at all times I see how having to weed through everything could be exhausting and time consuming. However, I also believe that the serendipity of just walking through a city without an agenda brings people to interesting, new, and unique places.

My perception of cities did not change drastically from my single trip into Philadelphia, but I do feel that I was shocked and amazed by the little things that cities have to offer that not many people choose to notice. Although I have always felt that I was one to wander within cities, I felt it even more so yesterday when I took the time to really take in the entire city through all of my senses. I noticed more artwork, the little details in the architecture, and even the trash on the street. Not everything I saw through open eyes was beautiful, but I think that everything I did experience added to the city somehow.

I believe that through this trip we found the serendipity of the city. We saw art, we went to a park and played on the swings, we wandered down streets and into a restaurant, and we learned to map the roads. I experienced a piece of artwork that I never would have without this class, which is serendipitous in itself. I felt like through the show was able to immerse myself in the experience of the library, I was able to hear and sense every piece of my surroundings, and I would hope to reach that kind of connectivity with the city. Hearing all of the sounds, smelling all of the smells, seeing all of the sights, and combining all of these to a whole so to create an experience. Everyone in the city with their own purpose, yet all connected together by the city streets and buildings.