The slogan sprayed on Paris walls in the barricades of revolutionary 1968 went: “Beneath the streets, the beach!”
This was not a deckchair insurgency. It was a literal reference to the sand the students found underneath the cobblestones they hurled at the police in their quest to alter the fabric of society.
The roots lie in the Situationists. They firmly believed that the capitalist streets could be rediscovered and subverted by a method they called dèrive (literally “drift”) – essentially, aimless walking. In the words of founder Guy Debord, dèrive involved people being “drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there”.
Sound familiar? The first ten-minute experiment in a Street Wisdom goes: “Be drawn to what attracts you (and notice what doesn’t).”
For me, Street Wisdom is a similarly revolutionary, almost aimless technique that helps us not just find the beach beneath the streets, but find the beach in the streets, where we can rest a little, look out to see (afresh), get a people tan.
Just like the beachcomber, in a Street Wisdom we’re the streetcomber, mining our experience of the streets for things of value and interest.
In this playfulness I am not trying to rob the Situationists or the students of their seriousness. And of course the streets today are no walk on the beach for many homeless people and young people involved in gangs.
But surely the streets – as urgently now as in 1968 – are a space for play and experimentation in living? Else there would be nothing beneath our feet.